Ida's heavy rains send Louisiana residents in search of drinking water

KENNER, Louisiana – On Wednesday, in one of the many queues weaving through gas stations, out of grocery stores and around hardware stor...


KENNER, Louisiana – On Wednesday, in one of the many queues weaving through gas stations, out of grocery stores and around hardware stores in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, sat Jeanne DiLeo, in her car, waiting. The simplest of needs required hours of effort in the world Hurricane Ida left behind. She had traveled to Mississippi to buy fuel to run her car and generator, and was now sitting in a trailer of vehicles outside a church getting food and, most importantly, water.

“Water is a trickle,” Ms. DiLeo, 45, said of what was happening when she turned on her tap in Kenner. “Sometimes it’s not even a net.”

The storm that swept through southeast Louisiana on Sunday left untold numbers homeless and nearly a million facing an undefined stretch without power, but it also wreaked havoc on another essential service. Hundreds of thousands of people have found themselves in places where water infrastructure has been severely damaged by the storm and where pumps and sewage treatment plants have been deprived of electricity.

In Jefferson Parish, more populous than and next door to the city of New Orleans, virtually all residents were experiencing either water outages or boil water advisories. Even though the heat was suffocating and air conditioning almost nonexistent, drinking water in most of the parish was limited to what one had stored before the storm or could be obtained after standing in line for hours. .

“It became a basic subsistence,” said Steve Robinson, senior pastor at the King’s Church, which has a site in Kenner, where a line of cars drove around as volunteers from his congregation handed out pallets. of water and packed buckets. with toiletries, flashlights, first aid kits and non-perishable foods. They ended up running out of hot meals.

It was life, in turmoil, in much of the region – an oil state in dire need of fuel, with flood-devastated places desperately running out of water. More than a dozen hospitals have been evacuated and people with serious medical conditions were still waiting for help in homes without electricity and on roads blocked by fallen trees.

Carbon monoxide poisoning, due to improper use of generators, sent a dozen people to New Orleans hospitals and left one dead, authorities said, bringing the death toll from the storm and its consequences to at least eight. President Biden was due to visit Louisiana on Friday.

Good news arrived on Wednesday when Entergy, Louisiana’s largest utility, announced to have restored the power to about 11,500 customers in New Orleans, turning on the lights in some of the city’s eastern neighborhoods. But officials have warned that it would take longer to restore power to the entire city given the extent of the damage. It could take weeks, they said, before the hardest-hit parts of the state emerge from the shadows.

And yet Ida had not finished. As the remnants of the storm angrily headed northeast, it filled a dam to perilous capacity in central Pennsylvania, causing the evacuation of thousands, and spawned tornadoes in Maryland. Flash flood watches have been issued in New England and Governor Kathy Hochul of New York has ordered state agencies to prepare emergency response plans.

The Parish of Jefferson, home to about 430,000 people and stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to suburban New Orleans housing estates and malls, has offered grim testimony that a storm the magnitude of ‘Ida can do in one place. Ida left a trail of devastation across the southern end of the parish, inundating small communities in the wetlands and completely washing away homes on the beaches of Grand Isle, which parish officials deemed “uninhabitable”.

By midweek, water was still 10 to 12 feet deep in places in small towns where flooding destroyed so many homes that it’s difficult even days later to report back. “There are so many,” said Tim Kerner Jr., mayor of Jean Lafitte, where water overflowed the dikes and engulfed the city on Sunday. “A lot of houses have blown away, the water has grown so high.”

The problem at the northern end of the parish was different. There, the area was mostly protected from flood waters by the massive complex of dikes and flood walls that encircle New Orleans. But the hurricane’s winds caused chaos, uprooting trees and knocking down power lines. Most of the buildings have remained standing, but the services necessary for daily life have collapsed.

“We are a broken community right now,” Jefferson Ward president Cynthia Lee Sheng said at a news conference. “We have no electricity. We have no communication. We have no gas. Our water and sewer systems are very fragile.

There is no precise timetable for the return of electricity to the parish. Without electricity to power pumping stations, tankers have to fill up with sewage and deliver it to sewage treatment plants, one trip at a time. Nowhere in Jefferson Parish is water drinkable straight from the tap.

Mark Drewes, who heads the parish’s public works department, said after the storm roared, there was little water pressure left in the system; water flowed through dozens of broken pipes and pipes.

Without water pressure, it was nearly impossible to put out the fires, as firefighters discovered when an apartment complex near the New Orleans airport caught fire on Sunday night. With water sluggishly draining from the hydrants, firefighters had to pump water from a shopping mall across the street and haul it to the fire overnight.

Thanks to a tedious process of finding breaks and closing the valves, the pressure kept increasing. Yet that was not yet enough, officials said, to make the water safe to drink according to state health standards. The largest hospital in the parish, Ochsner Medical Center, relied on its own well, drilled on campus after Hurricane Katrina, in addition to deliveries of bottled water and potable water from tank trucks.

For most residents of Jefferson Parish, however, there were the grocery stores, distribution centers, and churches – and the long, long lines outside.

Considering all this, the officials were making the same note they had for days on end: if you go, don’t come back yet. If you are here you might want to leave.

In Marrero, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, buses lined up outside a playground to transport people to shelter elsewhere in the state – those who had endured the hurricane but were dejected by the misery that followed.

One man said he was exhausted from days without electricity and water, the relentless humidity that made him sweat “constantly and profusely” and a house that was starting to smell of mold. The man, who declined to give his name, said he didn’t really care where the bus took him.

“Wherever I end up,” he said, “it’s better than where I was.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ida's heavy rains send Louisiana residents in search of drinking water
Ida's heavy rains send Louisiana residents in search of drinking water
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