With the vast majority of lights now on in New Orleans, city officials on Thursday were prepared for the next phase in navigating the aftermath of Hurricane Ida: recovery.
The slow progress toward normalcy came even as the death toll from Ida continued to rise — an additional 11 deaths were confirmed by the state health department on Wednesday, bringing the count to 26 dead in Louisiana.
Ida was a Category 4 storm when it ravaged the state on Aug. 26, damaging homes and leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without electricity. As the utility company Entergy scrambled to get power back on in New Orleans during the heat of late summer, residents turned to backup generators for air-conditioning and flocked to cooling centers for reprieve.
As the outage continued, hospitals began receiving calls of individuals suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning because those generators had been misused. Of the 11 deaths reported on Wednesday, two were attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning; the rest were blamed on “excessive heat during an extended power outage,” according to the New Orleans coroner’s office.
Entergy, the city’s sole energy provider, had restored power to an estimated 98 percent of customers in the greater New Orleans area by Thursday morning, according to the chief executive of Entergy New Orleans, Deanna Rodriguez. Although the city’s mayor lifted a curfew that was put into place last week, the Police Department will continue to monitor areas that are still without power.
Thousands of residents who left New Orleans before the storm are trickling back in. An additional 1,100 residents who chose to evacuate to state-run shelters last week are also expected to make their return, according to the city’s director of homeland security, Collin Arnold.
“It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” Mr. Arnold said about the return of its residents. “This is kind of the end of the response aspect of all of this. Now, we begin recovery work.”
Residents who were evacuated from eight senior housing complexes in New Orleans that were deemed to be unsafe during the power outage will begin returning to their apartments tomorrow after city officials found them fit to reopen, according to the city’s emergency preparedness office. One other complex remains shut down after officials found it uninhabitable.
People across New Orleans were still struggling on Thursday to obtain basic necessities — like food, water and ice — in the sweltering heat, and flocking to distribution sites where they must wait for hours in long lines.
“The people that are coming back are coming home to an empty refrigerator,” Mr. Arnold said.
While the $14.5 billion flood-protection system built in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 prevented Ida from being more destructive, Mr. Arnold said the city plans to examine the gaps that the storm exposed in its other aspects of its infrastructure, including its water and drainage system.
The conditions in New Orleans still remain better than in other parts of the state. While electricity has been restored to almost all of the city’s residents, more than 200,000 customers in other parts of Louisiana remain without light or air-conditioning.
In St. John Parish, 85 percent were still without power on Thursday, while in Lafourche and St. Charles parishes, 95 percent remained disconnected. And 100 percent of customers in Terrebonne Parish were without electricity. It will take weeks to restore power to some of those areas, according to Entergy.
As the state attempts to put itself back together, it remains the peak of hurricane season, with another part of the Gulf Coast — the Florida Panhandle — being struck overnight by the latest tropical storm, Mindy, which formed late Wednesday.
Last year, the city of Lake Charles, La., was hit by several storms, one after another, with Hurricane Laura and Delta dealing the most damage.
“My role here is that I have to think about the unthinkable,” Mr. Arnold said. “And we still need to be prepared for another storm.”