NEW ORLEANS, La. (KTAL/AP) – The biggest challenge left in the wake of Hurricane Zeta in Southeast Louisiana continues to be the restoration of power, Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a briefing Thursday afternoon.
The governor offered a second update on the state’s response to the storm Thursday after touring damage with local leadears and federal officials in some of the areas hit Wednesday by Hurricane Zeta, including St. Tammany Parish.
The storm made landfall around 4 p.m. Wednesday near Cocodrie with 110 mph winds before moving into the New Orleans area and into neighboring Mississippi. As Edwards noted Thursday morning and again Thursday afternoon, Zeta was just one mile per hour short of Category 3 strength when it came ashore.
“That is literally the strongest possible Category 2 hurricane you can have,” said Edwards.
Grand Isle took the brunt of the powerful storm before moving inland, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands and causing significant damage to homes and infrastructure, according to the governor.
Edwards said first responders had trouble getting to Grand Isle Thursday morning because Highway 1 was flooded and there was an oyster vessel that was actually on the highway blocking traffic. While work to clear the highway was underway, the National Guard flew in assets in order to begin the search for those in need of rescue and evacuation.
“The closer you get to the coast, the more destruction the damage is to structures and that includes homes,” Edwards said. While he was not aware of any active calls for rescue as of his briefing Thursday morning, an initial sweep of all homes is underway. “We always check them whether we receive a call or not, because they may not be able to get to their phones.”
Edwards is expected to tour that area Friday, as well as the greater New Orleans area and more of Jefferson Parish.
Two people had to be rescued during the storm from an overturned mobile home in Larose in Lafourche Parish. Both were taken to the hospital, one with broken bones.
Edwards said a 55-year-old man in Orleans Parish became the first death in Louisiana blamed on the storm after he came into contact with a downed power line and was electrocuted. In Mississippi, man drowned when he became trapped in rising seawater in Biloxi, Mississippi, after taking video of the raging storm. The coroner said he and another man got out of a floating car and desperately clung to a tree before his strength “just gave out.” And in Georgia, authorities said a man was killed when high winds caused a tree to fall onto a mobile home in Cherokee County.
Because the storm system was moving very fast for a hurricane, rainfall totals were limited and most of the flood damage came from storm surge along the coast. Edwards said there were no levee failures other than Grand Isle, where repairs are already underway.
As expected, Edwards said, much of the damage was from the storm’s powerful winds, which knocked a lot of trees and limbs down, taking lines and utility poles with them. As of late Thursday morning, there were about 469,000 homes and businesses without power, down from a peak of 531,000. Power is expected to be out for “a considerable portion of South Louisiana for a considerable period of time,” but how long is still to be determined as damage assessments continue.
Watch the governor’s full Thursday morning briefing here:
Edwards said about 96% of Plaquemines Parish was without power, along with about two-thirds of Orleans Parish and more than 80% of Jefferson and some other parishes.
The governor also said an election task force was set up last week to monitor and assess the situation in Southwest Louisiana to ensure alternate polling places will be available if needed due to damage or power outages caused by the storm. Edwards urged voters in those areas to pay close attention to communication from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office and local election officials for updates on where to vote in the event the normal locations are unavailable on November 3.
Zeta is the 27th named storm of a historically busy Atlantic hurricane season — with over a month left to go. It set a new record as the 11th named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. in a single season, well beyond the nine storms that hit in 1916.