Gov. Edwards Outlines Slow Progress In Ida Relief, As Another Possible Storm Forms In The Atlantic
As lights slowly return to Louisiana homes and businesses amid the colossal clean-up effort from Hurricane Ida, Gov. John Bel Edwards is warning that another possible storm could track towards the Gulf Coast.
Forecasters are watching a disturbance over the Yucatan Peninsula that the National Hurricane Center has given a 30 percent chance of developing into a cyclone over the next five days.
“We've been speeding relief as much as we possibly can. And the importance of continuing to do that and getting even better is underscored by the threat looming,” Edwards said during a press conference Saturday.
The governor spoke after touring St. Tammany, St. Helena and Livingston parishes, where Ida destroyed the electricity grid. A boil water advisory remains in effect in Livingston Parish, and distribution sites were handing out ice, tarps, water and MRE’s across the Northshore on Saturday.
Some of the areas there could be without power for another three to four weeks. In St. Helena, about 80 percent of customers had no power, according to the latest data from the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
Edwards said he wasn’t trying to be “an alarmist” by raising the threat of another storm on the heels of the Category 4 hurricane that decimated homes and businesses across a large swath of southeast Louisiana.
“They're not necessarily predicting that it's going to strengthen into a hurricane. But they obviously cannot rule that out either,” Edwards said.
“Even if it visits our area as a tropical storm, we're in no condition to receive that much rainfall. And that could happen by the end of the week,” he added. “And if it's not this storm system, there certainly could be another at some point in the future.”
Across Louisiana, 718,559 customers remained without electricity, down from 1.1 million at the peak of post-Ida power outages.
“We've got a long way to go,” Edwards said.
About 337,000 families have registered for FEMA assistance and have been approved for $156 million in aid, Edwards said. Roughly 33,00 had registered for a free roof tarp through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As of Friday, the National Guard had distributed 1.8 million meals, 95,000 tarps, and 275,000 bags of ice, Edwards said.
The death toll from Ida stands at 12 people, including five nursing home residents who died after they were among over 800 evacuated ahead of the storm and packed into a warehouse in Independence, Louisiana, lying on mattresses on the floor.
The Louisiana Department of Health announced late Saturday that it’s closing the seven nursing homes — owned by Baton Rouge developer Bob Dean — that evacuated residents.
Those are River Palms Nursing and Rehab and Maison Orleans Healthcare Center in Orleans Parish, South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab in Lafourche Parish, Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home, West Jefferson Health Care Center and Maison DeVille Nursing Home of Harvey in Jefferson Parish, and Maison DeVille Nursing Home in Terrebonne Parish.
“What happened in Independence is reprehensible, and I know there are many families hurting as a result,” said health department secretary Dr. Courtney N. Phillips in a statement.
She said there would be more action taken against the nursing homes.
“The lack of regard for these vulnerable residents' wellbeing is an affront to human dignity. We have lost trust in these nursing homes to provide adequate care for their residents. We are taking immediate action today to protect public health,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer.
Both the health department and Attorney General Jeff Landry are investigating the education and deaths.
Another leading cause of death related to the storm is carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, and Edwards warned yet again against the dangers of having a generator too close to a home, an open window, door or vent.
“This is tasteless, it is odorless, and you don't know it's happening until it's too late,” he said. “A lot of times people turn the generator on in order to get cooled enough to go to sleep, a family will go to sleep, and sometimes they don't wake up.”
Edwards said the state's electrical infrastructure “needs to be strengthened everywhere.”
Some damage and disruption is bound to happen as the coast gets lashed every year by severe storms, “but we know we can minimize those disruptions,” he said.
Edwards said he talked to the president about a substantial investment in the state’s electrical grid, given the increasing frequency and intensity of storms fueled by climate change.
“We can’t continue to build things back to the current standard. If the current standard were enough we wouldn’t have lost the things that went out with the storm,” he said.
The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) is planning an exercise to figure out how the state should respond to another hurricane in the immediate aftermath of Ida — something the governor said had been planned before the disturbance developed in the Yucatan Peninsula.
“That's almost more than you can contemplate,” he said.
“It’s more than the theoretical possibility. It happened to us last year,” Edwards said, referencing how Hurricane Delta hit the southwest of the state mere six weeks after Hurricane Laura devastated the area. “And it could happen this year.”
Edwards said he was praying it would not.