More Than a Million Without Power in the Wake of Ida's 'Catastrophic Transmission Damage'

A major transmission tower crumpled into the Mississippi River, leaving New Orleans and other towns across the South without power.

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A group of people cross an intersection during Hurricane Ida on August 29, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A group of people cross an intersection during Hurricane Ida on August 29, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)

All of New Orleans lost power Sunday night after Hurricane Ida brought down eight transmission lines that deliver electricity to the city, according to a new report from Nola.com. Everyone in Orleans parish, home to New Orleans, lost power around 7:15 p.m. local time, 8:15 p.m. ET, and it’s not clear when power might be restored.

Local utility Entergy said it was dealing with “catastrophic transmission damage.” WWLW investigative reporter David Hammer tweeted that the company had eight transmission lines go down, leading to the massive blackout. The main transmission tower has collapsed into the Mississippi River. Video captured by NOLA.com reporter Anthony McAuley on Monday morning shows the tower crumpled in a heap just outside New Orleans.

Entergy CEO and president Philip May said in an interview with NOLA.com that the utility didn’t have a full grasp of the damage, but that “we know all eight are not operating. It’s certainly possible that it could be something that could be fixed relatively quickly.” The utility is dispatching workers across the region to get a better handle on things now that Ida has moved further north.

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In the meantime, more than 1 million households in Louisiana and nearly 132,000 in Mississippi are currently without power, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks power outages across the country. Local news station WWL-TV in Louisiana reports that while phone calls are going straight to voicemail in the region, some text messages are getting through. New Orleans’ 96 pumps that help the city cope with stormwater have also lost power from Entergy, forcing the city’s Sewerage & Water Board that operates the system to rely on electricity generated in-house. The pumps managed to maintain enough power to work throughout the night, and the city appears to have avoided major flooding. That said, sewage pumps did lose power and could lead to an uptick in pollution and waterborne illnesses.

Hurricane Ida, a slow-moving Category 4 storm, first made landfall around noon local time at Port Fourchon, roughly 100 miles (161 kilometers) south of New Orleans, and then again at Galliano, about 70 miles (113 kilometer) south of New Orleans, around 2 p.m. local time. At the time of landfall, Ida had winds of 150 mph (241 kph). The storm maintained remarkable intensity as it crawled inland and has only recently begun to weaken wind-wise, though it’s still packing a punch and heavy rain is wreaking havoc as it moves inland. Incredibly, the Mississippi River even reversed course on Sunday, temporarily flowing south to north in a move that’s likely to increase the expected flood damage in the state.

The devastation of this hurricane is only beginning to be felt, with reports of people in Louisiana also losing water in their homes. Jefferson Parish is reportedly losing 250,000 gallons of water per hour, according to WWL-TV, caused by fallen trees that have damaged the water system.

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To make matters even worse, Louisiana has struggled recently with an enormous surge in covid-19 cases, pushing the local health system to the max. The state reported 3,428 new covid-19 cases on Friday alone, with roughly 84% of Louisiana’s ICU beds currently occupied. NOLA.com reported that a backup generator failed at Thibodaux Regional Health System in Lafourche Parish, forcing medical staff to manual pump air in and out of patients’ lungs while they transported them to a part of the hospital that still had power. State Rep. Jerome Zeringue described the scene as “Katrinaesque.” (Hospitals notoriously lost power during Katrina and generators failed, contributing to mass deaths.)

Watching Ida, it’s once again clear that various parts of the U.S. energy grid are simply too antiquated to stand up to the conditions the climate crisis has wrough. The most notorious example of a grid failing is Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. But hurricanes are far from the only climate disasters that threaten the power supply. This year alone, the Texas energy grid failed catastrophically after extreme cold hit the state, leaving hundreds dead across the state. (It’s almost failed twice again this summer.) And California’s grid has been stressed this summer amid wildfires, just as it has in other recent years. Declining water levels at the state’s reservoirs and hydropower dams have added further stress. All these disasters have shown why we need a modernized grid, one that at once connects broader swaths of the country and has built-in resilience measures to deal with increasingly, hot, fiery, stormy, and dry conditions. (Obviously it would also kick fossil fuels to the curb.) That’s a long-term project, though.

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If you’re staring at the news from outside the region and wondering what you can do to help Ida survivors right now, we’ve created a guide on different ways that you can help victims of the hurricane right now.

Update, 8/30/21, 9:44 a.m. ET: This post has been updated with new information on the state of the grid and power outages. Brian Kahn contributed reporting to this update.