Hurricane Ida evacuees urged to return to New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With power due back for almost all of New Orleans by next week, Mayor LaToya Cantrell strongly encouraged residents who evacuated because of Hurricane Ida to begin returning home. But outside the city, the prospects of recovery appeared bleaker, with homes and businesses in tatters.

Six days after Hurricane Ida made landfall, hard-hit parts of Louisiana were still struggling to restore any sense of normalcy. Even around New Orleans, a continued lack of power for most residents made a sultry stretch of summer hard to bear and added to woes in the aftermath of Ida. Louisiana authorities searched Friday for a man they said shot another man to death after they both waited in a long line to fill up at a gas station in suburban New Orleans.

Cantrell said the city would offer transportation starting Saturday to any resident looking to leave the city and get to a public shelter. It already began moving some residents out of senior homes.

At the Renaissance Place senior home Friday, dozens of residents lined up to get on minibuses equipped with wheelchair lifts after city officials said they determined conditions at the facility were not safe and evacuated it.

Reggie Brown, 68, was among those waiting to join fellow residents on a bus. He said residents, many in wheelchairs, have been stuck at the facility since Ida. Elevators stopped working three days ago and garbage was piling up inside, he said. The residents were being taken to a state-run shelter, the mayor’s office said.

“I’m getting on the last bus,” Brown said. “I’m able-bodied.”

A phone message for the company that manages the Renaissance site, HSI Management Inc., was not immediately returned.

But Cantrell also encouraged residents to return to the city as their power comes back, saying they could help the relief effort by taking in neighbors and family who were still in the dark. Only a small number of city residents had power back by Friday though almost all electricity should return by Wednesday, according to Entergy, the company that provides power to New Orleans and much of southeast Louisiana in the storm’s path.

“We are saying, you can come home,” Cantrell told a news conference.

The outlook was not as promising south and west of the city, where Ida’s fury fully struck. The sheriff’s office in Lafourche Parish cautioned returning residents about the difficult situation that awaited them — no power, no running water, little cellphone service and almost no gasoline.

Late Friday, Entergy said its damage assessments across southeast Louisiana were almost complete, and the company posted restoration times for most customers. Some parishes outside New Orleans were battered for hours by winds of 100 mph (160 kph) or more.

President Joe Biden arrived Friday to survey the damage in some of those spots, touring a neighborhood in LaPlace, a community between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that suffered catastrophic wind and water damage that sheared off roofs and flooded homes.

“I promise we’re going to have your back,” Biden said at the outset of a briefing by officials.

The president has also promised full federal support to the Northeast, where Ida’s remnants dumped record-breaking rain and killed at least 50 people from Virginia to Connecticut.

At least 14 deaths were blamed on the storm in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including those of three nursing home residents who were evacuated along with hundreds of other seniors to a warehouse in Louisiana ahead of the hurricane. State health officials have launched an investigation into those deaths and a fourth one at the warehouse facility in Tangipahoa Parish, where they say conditions became unhealthy and unsafe.

The health department on Friday reported an additional death — a 59-year-old man who was poisoned by carbon monoxide from a generator that was believed to be running inside his home. Several deaths in the aftermath of the storm have been blamed on carbon monoxide poisoning, which can happen if generators are run improperly.

More than 800,000 homes and businesses remained without power Friday evening across southeast Louisiana, according to the Public Service Commission. That’s about 36% of all utility customers statewide, but it’s down from the peak of around 1.1 million after the storm arrived Sunday with top winds of 150 mph (230 kph). Ida is tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to strike the mainland U.S.

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge and Santana reported from Marrero. Associated Press writers Chevel Johnson in New Orleans; Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

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