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Thousands In Louisiana Are Still Without Power 1 Month After Ida Landfall

Heavy rain falls as storm surge begins to encroach on Louisiana Route 1 ahead of Hurricane Ida in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 29.
Heavy rain falls as storm surge begins to encroach on Louisiana Route 1 ahead of Hurricane Ida in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 29.

After Hurricane Ida made landfall, Golden Meadow, Louisiana looked like a warzone. Three out of every four homes had major damage, the high school lost its roof and shrimp and house boats were overturned.

On top of the destruction, everyone living in the small Lafourche Parish town just 20 miles north from where the storm had made landfall had lost power — much like the rest of the southeastern portion of the state. One month later, the town is still devastated and half the lights have yet to flicker back to life.

People live in tents on their front lawns. Houses behind them are missing walls. A local gas station is no more than rubble.

“You can tell something was there but it looks nothing like it did before,” Matthew Chouest, the pastor of Golden Meadow’s First Baptist Church said. “Coming back, it just puts a lump in my throat.”

More than a million people lost power in Louisiana because of Ida. The Category 4 hurricane is one of the most devastating storms in U.S. history — downing more power poles in Louisiana than hurricanes Katrina, Zeta and Rita combined. Entergy, the electric utility servicing most of Louisiana, estimates the cost to repair all the damage Ida wrought to its grid will be between $2.1 and $2.6 billion.

Can't view the image below? Click here to see Entergy's statewide outage map.

Courtesy of Entergy

Now, 31 days after Ida’s landfall, Entergy says it has restored electricity to the vast majority of homes and businesses. But the work isn’t done. About 5,000 Entergy customers, mostly along Louisiana’s coast, remain without a clear timeline for when the lights will come back. For some, it could be in a few days. For others, it could be years — all while dealing with flooding, leaking roofs and the question of whether rebuilding is worth it.

“We have people that left — I don’t think they’re coming back,” Golden Meadow Mayor Joey Bouziga said. “We got a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

'The damage is more than you can imagine'

The power came back on at the First Baptist Church of Golden Meadow Sunday, but Pastor Chouest and the community are still in survival mode.

They’re still eating cold meals — excluding when volunteers, some from out of state, cook jambalaya — while mold keeps people away from some of the few structurally-sound buildings.

“Unless you come see it with your own eyes, I don’t think people realize how bad we got hit,” Chouest said.

Golden Meadow is a small town of just under 2,000 people, stretching just three miles south toward the Gulf of Mexico along Louisiana Highway 1. It’s mostly known for the boats that leave the harbor, tasked with either bringing back shrimp or sending out supplies to oil fields.

Until Sept. 20, there was no power in Golden Meadow not produced by a generator, according to Entergy’s data. On Wednesday, about 50% of the town’s customers had power restored.

In an email, Entergy said working over water, bayous and marshes in areas like Golden Meadow makes for slow progress. Plus, for these hardest-hit areas, it's not about restoring the grid — they need a total rebuild. The utility is still working on a timeline for how long that will take.

The knowledge of just how much damage Ida brought with it has kept many in Golden Meadow from being critical of Entergy.

“The damage is more than you can imagine,” said Father John Nambusseril with Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Golden Meadow. “The linemen, they are all over. They are trying their best, and they’re doing a good job.”

But critics say some of that damage could have been avoided. A Propublica and NPR investigation found that Entergy aggressively resisted calls for it to improve its infrastructure.

Accuracy of outage numbers questioned

At one point, Entergy had more than 20,000 linemen helping restore Louisiana’s grid, many from out of state. On Tuesday morning, that number dropped down to 6,400 workers. Entergy said the decrease in manpower is based on the amount of work left and logistically how many crew members they can support in these more rural communities.

Excluding Golden Meadow, virtually all of Lafourche Parish has power restored, according to Entergy. But Wade Bruce, a shrimper living in Cut Off, said that isn’t true. As he drives up and down Louisiana Highway 1 and 308, the homes and street lights he sees remain dark. He estimates no more than 50 percent of the parish has power back.

“I see there’s no [street] lights, so that’s an absolute lie,” Bruce said.

Entergy said while it may have restored power to an area, that doesn’t mean a home or building can receive that electricity. Damage to a weatherhead or meter pan could prevent a homeowner from being able to turn on the lights until they hire a licensed electrician to make repairs.

It’s unknown how many homes in Louisiana are still powerless due to problems receiving power.

Bruce’s home in Cut Off, about 10 miles north of Golden Meadow, got power back Monday afternoon. But after seeing water leak from his home’s light fixtures, he’s waiting until he hears back from an electrician before flipping the main breaker. Until then — and after he deals with the mold growing in his house — he and his wife will continue sleeping on the bunk beds in their shrimping boat.

“I feel sorry for the people that don’t have that option, that have to sleep in their homes with all this stale air and mold growing everywhere because a lot of people are doing that,” Bruce said.

Power is just step one in coastal Jefferson Parish

Even for some southeast Louisiana towns where power is completely restored, the Ida recovery is still in its beginning phases.

Ida left Lafitte, a 2,000 person town in Jefferson Parish, layered in mud — up to two to three feet in some cases. That has completely covered parts of the city’s drainage system, leading to flooding from just about any amount of rain since.

“It looks like a swamp now,” Joe Valiente, the Jefferson Parish emergency management director, said.

The mud has also made it much more dangerous driving around town. A Ford F-250 pickup truck was destroyed when it slipped into a drainage ditch hidden by the mud. A garbage truck and 18-wheeler damaged their axles the same way.

Housing also remains one of the biggest issues for the coastal area of Jefferson Parish, with Valiente estimating between 3,000 and 5,000 people in need of temporary housing. Doing that means solving both supply-and-demand issues — for the materials — and labor problems — for the contractors. Both challenges are made worse due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But if Lafitte was destroyed, Valiente said Grand Isle was obliterated. All 2,700 Entergy customers on the island and the communities around it, about 30 miles south of Lafitte, have no power, according to the utility's website.

Most of the structures on the island were wiped out by the hurricane. The few remaining buildings on Grand Isle were built after Katrina using new building codes instituted after that storm. Valiente said it could take one or two years to rebuild the island.

“The island is still not inhabitable,” Valiente said. “Basically we’re going to rebuild it from scratch.”

Stephan Bisaha is the wealth and poverty reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a regional collaboration between NPR and member stations in Alabama (WBHM), Mississippi (MPB) and Louisiana (WWNO and WRKF). He reports on the systemic drivers of poverty in the region and economic development.

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