New Orleans is transporting some residents to shelters as hundreds of thousands remain without power after Hurricane Ida

02:08 - Source: CNN
Storms, heat and taste of fall for US this Labor Day weekend
CNN  — 

As hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents struggle in sweltering conditions and without power six days after deadly Hurricane Ida struck, some are trying their luck elsewhere.

New Orleans on Saturday started a shuttle program for electricity-deprived residents wanting to leave, sending them by charter bus from the city convention center to powered shelters in northern Louisiana and Texas.

“I had enough,” a New Orleans resident who gave his name only as Kerry told CNN on Saturday before boarding one of the buses.

His multistory apartment building in New Orleans, like much of the city, has been without power since the storm hit. Elevator service is out, and arthritis in his leg makes navigating the stairs difficult.

“(I’m looking forward to) just a clean bath, and to be cool. You know? It’s too hot,” Kerry told CNN’s Nadia Romero.

Around 700,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana were without power as of early Thursday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US – and people who are sticking around are enduring long lines outside gas stations and aid distribution sites in a battle to stay cool and mobile.

In the wind-damaged city of Kenner near New Orleans, the mayor was blunt Saturday when asked what his city needed most.

“Power,” Mayor Ben Zahn told CNN. “We suffered a lot. … When you don’t have power, you need ice. So we have been trying to give as much ice out as we can, because people need to keep things as cold as possible.”

High temperatures will be in the high 80s or low 90s in southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi on Saturday, with the heat index – what the temperature feels like with humidity and other factors – generally in the mid-90s, the forecasters said.

Entergy Louisiana, which provides electric service to more than 1 million customers, has estimated that power will be restored to the vast majority of its customers by Wednesday.

Many gas stations are inoperable or don’t have fuel – and those that do have people waiting outside them for hours. Many want gas to fuel their vehicles – some to drive out of the region, and some just to use their cars as air-conditioned places to rest. Others want to fuel their at-home generators to keep electricity going.

In once instance, frayed nerves turned deadly.

In Metairie outside New Orleans, a man waiting for gas was shot and killed Friday, apparently after he confronted a man who cut the line, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said.

A suspect turned himself in Friday night and claimed self-defense, “which doesn’t match up any of the witness testimony,” Lopinto told reporters Saturday.

The sheriff urged patience at the pumps.

“(We don’t) have enough policemen out there on the street to … sit in every single gas station to play babysitter,” he said. “We … need people to act like adults.”

As for people wanting to leave New Orleans: The city is shuttling people from 12 pickup sites to the convention center, where they will be registered. From there, buses will take them to the shelters elsewhere.

‘I’m just wondering where the help is’

Outside an uptown New Orleans gas station Saturday morning, motorists waited in massive, serpentine lines even several hours before the facility was due to open.

A day earlier, Eric Mertz drove 20 miles from his home in neighboring St. Charles Parish to wait for gas outside a New Orleans gas station, where he believed the lines were shorter than they were near his home.

He still waited hours.

“I’m just wondering where the help is,” Mertz said Friday. “I don’t have air conditioning. No lights. I had Covid last year. I was in the ICU for 14 days, and I’m on oxygen (treatments now). And I don’t have no electricity – it’s rough.”

The storm made landfall August 29 as a Category 4 hurricane, leading to the deaths of at least 13 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and devastating infrastructure there. Remnants of the storm then pummeled the East Coast on Wednesday, triggering flash floods and tornadoes and killing dozens more.

As of Saturday morning, the majority of gas stations in Baton Rouge (74.3%) and New Orleans (65.6%) were without gas, according to outages compiled by GasBuddy. More than half of the gas stations in Lafayette similarly didn’t have gas.

Those outages are being driven by a combination of spiking demand and complications supplying the fuel caused by power outages, analysts said.

Nursing home deaths under investigation

As Louisiana tries to recover, the state attorney general announced Friday an investigation into the deaths of some nursing home residents who were being sheltered in a warehouse ahead of the storm.

Four residents had died by the time the investigation was announced, though a fifth died after being removed from the shelter, officials said Friday.

On Saturday, the state’s health department announced it had confirmed a total of seven deaths of nursing home residents evacuated to Independence, five of which had been classified as storm-related.

More than 800 residents of seven nursing homes had been brought to the warehouse in the town of Independence ahead of the storm, and all were removed by Thursday over concerns about conditions there, officials said.

The town’s police chief said it appeared the operators were struggling to meet patient needs and the facility struggled to maintain power, and the attorney general has said the investigation will focus on who sent patients to the “apparently unsafe and potentially inappropriate facility.”

Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter on Saturday ordered that the seven nursing facilities that evacuated to Independence be closed immediately, pending further regulatory action, according to a news release from the state’s health department.

“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,” Kanter said in a statement.

Biden visits Louisiana: ‘I promise to have your backs’

President Joe Biden visited Louisiana on Friday to survey damage from Hurricane Ida, acknowledged people’s frustration at the pace of power restoration, and promised federal help.

Twin sisters Bridget and Rosalie Serigny, 66, search for personal items stored in their destroyed shed in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, on Wednesday.

“We’re not going to leave any community behind, rural, city, coastal, and I promise to have your backs until this gets done,” Biden said.

Thursday afternoon, the Biden administration announced it would be releasing 1.5 million barrels of crude oil from America’s emergency stockpile, hoping to eventually help ease gas shortages.

In severely flooded St. John the Baptist Parish west of New Orleans, some water service is being restored, but much of the area still is without necessities, parish President Jaclyn Hotard said.

“There is no power anywhere in the parish, and we’re still struggling with communications,” Hotard told CNN’s Bianna Golodryga on Friday.

“When we were in neighborhoods today just assessing needs on the ground, many people don’t know of all of the places we have available for pod sites, with ice and water and MREs and other food distribution, because they don’t have any communications and/or they don’t have any electricity to charge up the communications they do have,” Hotard said.

Universities still adapting

Universities that canceled classes and evacuated students from the area still are adapting.

Tulane University in New Orleans is rebuilding its fall academic calendar, including refund dates and holidays, the university said Friday.

Tulane previously had said classes would be canceled until at least mid-September. The university this week helped bus students to Houston, where the school planned to provide food and accommodations until students could fly home.

Tulane said power restoration at the university is underway, and told students it would respond to inquiries as soon as it could.

“We understand that some milestones typically included in the academic calendar are not yet published. Decisions on these dates are forthcoming, and we will update the Fall 2021 Academic Calendar and notify students as these details are published,” the university said.

Loyola University New Orleans also canceled classes for at least two weeks and shuttled students to Mississippi and Alabama.

CNN’s Kay Jones, Melissa Alonso, Adrienne Broaddus, Dakin Andone, Rebekah Riess, Kay Jones, Jackson Dill, Haley Burton, Keith Allen and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.