Lights were turning back on at hospitals in St. Tammany’s parish as power companies focused on restoring service to essential services. But it may take a few weeks before badly damaged power distribution centers are repaired and all customers are back on.
There was minimal structural damage to the transmission system, but “catastrophic damage on the timing side” that could make restoration efforts a “week-long event in St. Tammany and Washington parishes,” a said Clint Robichaux, manager of distribution operations support for Cleco.
Much of the parish remained under a boil water advisory.
As of Tuesday morning, 98% of Cleco customers in St. Tammany, or more than 95,000 people, were left without power. Cleco said it will fully restore power to Slidell Memorial Hospital on Tuesday and begin work at Lakeview Regional Medical Center and St. Tammany Hospital. 911 operations were restored Monday afternoon, a parish spokesperson said.
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Meredith Mendez, spokeswoman for St. Tammany Parish Public Schools, did not have a timeline for the return to school, but said it was dependent on the restoration of power.
“Even once we have power, it will probably take a day or two,” she said. Once power is restored, officials will be able to fully assess the damage to school property and provide food for students.
A handful of businesses had started to reopen, including grocery stores and gas stations.
While recovery was underway across much of the parish, Hurricane Ida’s wrath had yet to fully recede from some areas near swollen rivers and streams. Brandi Bono sat outside Gene’s Country Store, on the corner of La. 1077 and La. 1078 between Goodbee and Folsom, watching the river that had trapped residents in their homes and flooded others, begin to fall. The parking lot was full of cars and trucks that had been parked on higher ground the day before to protect them from the rising waters.
The Tchefuncte River reached major flood stage in Folsom on Monday evening, and Bono, who runs the store, said people on Albert Thompson and P. Morgan roads were likely inundated. Both streets looked like tributaries of the river late Tuesday morning. Others along what is known as Little Tchefuncte live in raised houses but were trapped by the water, which flooded La. 1077 past the Bennett Bridge.
There was no estimate available of the number of houses that might have drawn water. But the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office said there were nine water rescues of people living near the Tchefuncte.
Bono had no gas or electricity, but she made a cash-only deal for customers who reached her by taking boats and jet skis to the bridge and walking. “Beer and cigarettes, that’s what they want,” she said.
James “Red” Thompson, a former St. Tammany Parish Council member who represented the area for decades, stopped by the store. The water was not as high as the devastating floods of 2016, but during these floods, people did not face falling power lines.
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Thompson said the rivers were up from the rain and the storm surge from the hurricane was preventing them from emptying.
Elsewhere in Goodbee, many people were in a similar situation, unable to leave their homes due to rivers which started to rise on Monday and continued to fall on Tuesday.
Residents rushed to the few open grocery stores and gas stations to stock up on supplies for what could be a long stay without power. Dozens of people stood in a line that overflowed from Winn Dixie to Covington, where customers were admitted a few at a time.
Brennetta Jones was in line to buy bread and meat for lunch. Her home in Abita Springs was largely spared, she said, but her 2015 Buick was destroyed. Samantha Hunt, who lives on Million Dollar Road, said she was “preparing for three weeks, four weeks without electricity” and was in line to buy bread and water.
Danielle Stilwell, who was queuing with her nephew and her brother’s girlfriend, said she was hoping to buy healthy food: “We’re sick of snacks.”