By Madeline Holcombe and Dakin Andone, CNN
Dwindling fuel supplies are hampering relief efforts in Louisiana, where many residents are relying on gas-powered generators in the wake of Hurricane Ida, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
“It’s impacting all of our recovery efforts,” the governor said Wednesday, as officials continued to sift through the wreckage to assess damage, rescue residents and restore infrastructure.
As of Thursday morning, nearly two-thirds of the gas stations in Baton Rouge (65.8%) and New Orleans (65.2%) were without fuel, according to outage figures compiled by GasBuddy — and nearly 36% of the gas stations statewide are without fuel.
Meanwhile, about 883,000 customers were still without power in the state, according to PowerOutages.US. Those in the hardest-hit areas could suffer outages for weeks, the regional electric utility Entergy has warned.
In New Orleans, the French Quarter was largely desolate Wednesday evening. Residents who were without power sat outside late into the night, attempting to stay cool. Some set up charging stations outside their homes, and people gathered around to charge their phones.
The hum of generators could be heard throughout the night, and by Thursday morning, the flicker of neon signs in storefronts signaled the return of some power to the neighborhood.
President Joe Biden said Thursday there is still “much to be done.”
In an effort to address the fuel shortage, Biden said in a news conference he directed the Department of Transportation to renew a declaration broadening the number of hours a truck driver can drive, and the Environmental Protection Agency had approved emergency waivers in Louisiana and Mississippi to expand the supply of gasoline.
Additionally, the US Department of Energy announced it would release 1.5 million barrels of crude oil from the country’s emergency stockpile to “alleviate any logistical issues of moving crude oil within areas affected by Hurricane Ida to ensure the region has access to fuel as quickly as possible.”
“We need to get power restored,” said the President, who plans to visit Louisiana on Friday. “We need to get more food, fuel and water … and we’ll be working around the clock until the critical needs of the region are fully met.”
High temperatures while many are without power
At least 13 people in Louisiana and Mississippi have been confirmed dead in connection with Hurricane Ida, which was a Category 4 hurricane when it slammed into the Gulf Coast on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression and moved north, where its remnants caused catastrophic flooding, claiming even more lives.
Those dead along the Gulf Coast included five who died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning in New Orleans, St. John the Baptist Parish and Jefferson Parish.
“We don’t have the immediate cause of death, but as of this time, it appears to be because of a generator,” St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre said Thursday, adding the person “had it outside of his window but somehow it appears the fumes may have gone into his bedroom while he was asleep.”
The Louisiana Department of Health on Thursday also reported the deaths of four nursing home residents who had been evacuated to a facility in Tangipahoa Parish ahead of Hurricane Ida on August 27. The coroner classified three of those deaths as storm-related.
The department had heard reports of “deteriorating conditions at the facility” after Ida made landfall, but inspectors were “expelled from the property” and prevented from doing an assessment Tuesday, the Department of Health said. Their deaths are under investigation.
Exacerbating the challenges is the dangerous heat being felt across Louisiana.
Heat advisories are in effect for much of the state, including the areas most heavily impacted by Ida, according to CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen. The heat index will approach 110 degrees in cities such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge, with temperatures at or above 90 degrees expected into the weekend.
Calls to the New Orleans Emergency Medical Services have jumped 185% because of the excessive heat and the fact that people don’t have power to cool down, director Dr. Emily Nichols said.
She urged caution when using generators, highlighting the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
In Jefferson Parish, officials received 30 calls Wednesday for carbon monoxide poisoning and four people had to go to the hospital, parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said. Three of the five carbon monoxide poisoning deaths happened in that parish.
White House adviser Cedric Richmond, former US representative for Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district, told MSNBC that the Biden administration’s “number one priority is to restore power.”
“We know that power is the most essential need in recovery. People need to get back home so that they can start rebuilding their homes and their lives,” he said. “We need to make sure that they can have air conditioning, make sure gas stations can have electricity, hospitals, the sewer pumps.
“Electricity is the basic element and foundation of recovery, which is why we’re so focused on making sure that we can make that happen quickly.”
Efforts to save lives and expedite recovery
Recovery efforts have been on overdrive to match the magnitude of destruction officials say they are seeing in Louisiana.
Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson said in a news conference he estimates around 25% of homes in the parish had been “catastrophically damaged” by the storm. Officials estimated another 30% to 40% had severe damage.
Earlier, Chaisson told CNN the southern part of the parish was devastated after suffering sustained winds of up to 130 mph for about 12 hours. “That will tear any structure to pieces no matter how you built it or how old that structure is,” he said.
Officials’ focus was restoring potable water systems for two areas in the parish that still don’t have access to fresh water.
“We will rebuild, we will rebuild bigger and better,” he said. “Cajuns are very resilient people. They are rallying around their neighbors and doing what they can to help out their neighbors.”
St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said that “every piece of critical infrastructure as it relates to electricity has been damaged” in the parish.
“It will be a lengthy amount of time before we can get that restored,” Hotard cautioned.
Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said the damage was the worst he had seen in his 67 years.
“We’re hot. We’re tired. Everybody’s stressed out,” Ricks said in a news conference Wednesday. “We’re all in the same boat as all our citizens, as all of our rescuers, as all our roadway clearers, as all of you all in the press. So, we’re asking everyone to please be patient.”
On Grand Isle, four feet of sand blocks the main highway and water and electricity lines that come through the marsh are destroyed, leaving the island without access to fresh water, gas, electricity or food, Mayor David Camardelle told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“We’ve been having a hell of a time. It was a miserable night looking at severe damages,” Camardelle said. “Everywhere you look … it looks like bombs went off on this island.”
National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson said more than 5,400 National Guard members are working across 31 parishes to “save lives and expedite recovery efforts.” By Thursday, there will be more than 8,000 National Guardsmen in the state, he added.
Power restored to some hospitals
Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest nonprofit healthcare system, has power restored at five of its hospital facilities in Louisiana, as well as one in Mississippi, President and CEO Warner Thomas said at a Thursday press briefing.
The lights are back on at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish Hospital in Chalmette, Ochsner Medical Center-North Shore in Slidell, Ochsner St. Mary in Morgan City, as well as Ochsner Medical Center-Hancock in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Thomas said.
Entergy Louisiana announced earlier in the day on Thursday that power has been restored to Ochsner Health Center-O’Neal Lane in Baton Rouge.
“The remainder of our campuses in New Orleans continue to run on back-up generation power. We do anticipate that our Oxford Baptist [New Orleans] campus should be live on regular power hopefully within the next several hours, so we will watch that carefully,” Thomas said.
In Mississippi, hospitals are inundated with Covid-19 cases and people seeking treatment for the impacts of the storm — both those who live there and those who crossed state lines for help, Mississippi Department of Health Senior Deputy and Director Jim Craig said.
Federal resources are currently on the ground in Mississippi, but Craig said additional support for emergency services is still needed, which led him to request additional resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Biden noted the Department of Health and Human Services sent a 250-bed federal medical shelter to New Orleans, and five medical assistance teams are available throughout the state.
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CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Rebekah Riess, Matt Egan, Gregory Lemos, Ellie Kaufman, Keith Allen, Hannah Sarisohn, Carma Hassan and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.