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New Orleans To Bus Some Residents To State-Run Shelters Starting Saturday

Aubri Juhasz
Hurricane Ida's strong winds caused one home to collapse on top of another in the St. Roch neighborhood. Aug. 30, 2021.

After hinting at post-storm transport plans for several days, the City of New Orleans will begin moving residents to state-run shelters Saturday, nearly a week after Hurricane Ida made landfall.

More than 200,000 residents weathered the strong Category 4 storm at home and have since had to contend with ongoing power outages, extreme heat, gas shortages and more.

“This is not an evacuation. This is an opportunity to be transported to a shelter if you’re tapping out,” Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said at a press conference updating the public on recovery efforts Friday.

While power has been restored to some parts of the city, starting with a small number of customers in New Orleans East early Thursday morning, the vast majority of residents are still without electricity. Approximately 41,000 residents -- in a city of around 400,000 -- had power Friday afternoon, according to the city’s utility provider Entergy.

Entergy expects power to be restored to all neighborhoods by Sept. 8 and has shared a timeline detailing which neighborhoods could get electricity back even sooner. At least three of the city’s eight transmission lines and 13 of its 20 substations are back in service.

Arnold said the city will be able to move a maximum of 2,300 residents per a day and encouraged most New Orleanians to remain in their homes even if they’re still without electricity.

“This should be reserved for the people that really are vulnerable to heat and really need this,” Arnold said. “If you're young and you're able bodied, I'd encourage you to reserve this service for others as they might need it more.”

He told people to “hang in” for a little while longer, since most neighborhoods are expected to regain power by Wednesday.

A Possible New Model For Storm Planning 

The city’s post-storm transport plan could become a model for future storms, especially those that intensify quickly and make pre-storm evacuation difficult, Arnold said.

By the time the forecast for Hurricane Ida had strengthened to a Category 3, officials said it was too late to establish the highway contraflow procedures necessary to call for a mandatory evacuation.

The city’s levee system held up against Ida’s thrashing. Knowing this, Arnold said the city could change how it prepares for future hurricanes.

“Evacuation will always be a part of what we do here for major hurricanes, but I think what you're seeing here is a levee system that worked, a water and drainage system that worked and that has some resilience and a population that's got a whole hell of a lot more resilience,” Arnold said.

“We can do these things and we can continue to be resilient and survive these hurricanes without completely fleeing,” he said.

City Prioritizes Transportation For Seniors

Residents that would like to evacuate should make their way to one of the city’s 12 pick-up sites starting tomorrow at 9 a.m., Arnold said.

RTA buses will be used to transport people to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center where coach buses are positioned to take people to shelters in northern Louisiana and nearby states, including Texas.

Residents looking to leave New Orleans and stay at a state-run shelter can board RTA buses to the Convention Center at the following locations:

  • Treme Recreation Center (900 N. Villere St)
  • Cut Off Recreation Center (6600 Belgrade St.)
  • Gernon Brown Recreation Center (1001 Harrison Ave.)
  • Milne Recreation Center (5420 Franklin Ave)
  • Stallings St. Claude Recreation Center (4300 St. Claude)
  • John P. Lyons Recreation Center (624 Louisiana Ave.)
  • Joe W. Brown Recreation Center (5601 Read Blvd.)
  • Rosenwald Recreation Center (1120 S. Broad Ave.)
  • Central City Senior Center (2101 Phillips St.) 
  • Engine Four Firehouse (6900 Downman Rd.)
  • Arthur Monday Recreation Center (1111 Newton St.)
  • Level-Up Campaign (1123 Lamanche St.)

After Saturday, RTA buses will be used to transport those looking to evacuate to the convention center from the same sites between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily until everyone who would like to leave has had the opportunity or power has been restored to the entire city.

State-run shelters are congregate settings equipped with cots, blankets, food services, air conditioning and other amenities. Pets are allowed, but will be sheltered in separate but adjacent facilities once residents arrive at the state-run shelters.

Luggage will be limited to one carry-on sized bag, plus other necessities such as medical devices or diaper bags. No weapons will be allowed.

The shetlers will follow COVID-19 protocols intended to diminish the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. People will need to wear masks and shelters will be set up to allow for social distancing, among other safety precautions, officials said.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, New Orleans’ health director, said the city's public health department and emergency medical services have provided wellness checks at senior apartments to prioritize transport for elderly residents who would like to evacuate.

“Most of our seniors are really tough and don't necessarily want to go,” Avegno said. “As long as we can confirm that they are going to be OK where they are, then we are going to respect their autonomy as our elders.”

She said many senior apartment buildings have set up their own cooling stations with water and ice or air conditioning using generator power. But she said some residents had been placed in dangerous situations.

“Those are the ones that we are prioritizing right now and working to get on those buses for the state shelters,” she said. “We will continue to do that as long as it takes.”

In addition to serving as a departure point for state-run shelters, Avegno said the Convention Center will also serve as a 100-bed federal special needs shelter that will coordinate with local hospitals to serve patients with chronic medical needs. Power has been restored to all hospitals, though some are still in the process of transitioning back to the grid.

For people who can’t make it to a cooling shelter on their own, Arnold said both Uber and Lyft have agreed to provide transportation to the nearest pick-up point. Residents can use the code IDARELIEF2021 or IDARELIEF21 for Uber and Lyft respectively.

Ramsey Green, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure, said all wireless carriers are now operational in the city and are providing roaming and increased data packages at no charge to improve coverage.

Limited bus service also resumed in the city Friday with all fares waived.

Green said the biggest infrastructure concern beyond power is sewage, particularly backups in New Orleans East. The board is still operating under emergency protocol and is dumping wastewater into the Mississippi River.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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