Treacherous roads and arctic wind blasts confronted residents Wednesday as a glacial front laid siege to the New Orleans metro area, essentially shutting down all commerce and causing at least two deaths, including one that occurred after a car careened off a street and into a Jefferson Parish canal.
A woman and her 8-month-old baby were pulled out of a canal dividing West Esplanade Avenue near Wilson Drive in Metairie and sent to a local hospital before the infant was pronounced dead, authorities said.
Kollage Le spent Wednesday morning with his son and the boy's mom when they all had to part ways because the parents had to go to work.
In the second incident, a driver on I-10 west near the Franklin Avenue exit spun out of control on the icy bridge, hitting another vehicle and causing it to strike a 57-year-old man standing nearby. He fell off the elevated bridge to his death.
The perilous conditions were caused by an early morning weather system that sent temperatures into the teens and 20s, breaking daily records. Wind chills, meanwhile, made the air feel as though it were in the single digits in many places.
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The ice wasn’t expected to fully thaw until Thursday, when temperatures were expected to rise into the 40s, National Weather Service officials said. Still, several parishes decided to keep schools closed for another day, in large part to prevent students from having to wait for buses in bitter temperatures.
The dangerous outlook prompted Gov. John Bel Edwards to declare a state of emergency Wednesday for the entire state. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other parish officials shut down public offices and urged residents to remain indoors.
"The weather conditions are extremely dangerous, and while it may be tempting to venture outside, it is critical that everyone stay off the frozen highways and streets and heed all state and local warnings in order to be safe," Edwards said.
The declaration is scheduled to remain in effect through Friday.
As bitter cold temperatures stretch into another day, many schools and offices will close or remain closed. Here is the latest ..
Adding to the bleak scenes were scattered power outages that left thousands of residents in Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Tammany and Plaquemines parishes in the dark and bitter cold early Wednesday. Crews from Entergy, which said ice and winds caused transmission lines to fail in at least one case, had restored much of the lost power by Wednesday afternoon, though St. Bernard still had substantial outages.
In St. Bernard, where more than 10,000 customers at one point were without power, parish President Guy McInnis described the situation as "concerning and frustrating."
"We want to sit down with Entergy (Louisiana) after this event and see what happened with our infrastructure and why the outages were so long," McInnis said.
Entergy blamed the sluggish restoration on the conditions that caused the outages in the first place, saying that icy roads were hampering their crews’ ability to get the job done.
"Rather than simply energizing an entire power line at once, we must bring customers back on line one section at a time to avoid unnecessary delays," Entergy said in a statement on its website.
The vast majority of customers in the parish were expected to have power restored Wednesday night, but Entergy said others could be in the dark until Thursday.
Roughly 370 households in Jefferson Parish were also without power as of Wednesday afternoon.
The destructive ice also hindered morning flights in and out of the Louis Armstrong International Airport, which reported record temperatures as cold as 20 degrees and frosty runways. The airport reopened later in the day.
Most schools, including public, private and parochial campuses, shut down Wednesday. By press time, officials with the public schools in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes and Catholic schools across all seven parishes had announced they would stay closed another day.
Major highways and roads were barred to drivers, including the I-10 in both directions between Kenner and Lafayette, the Causeway bridge, the I-10 twin spans and the highrise bridge over the Industrial Canal. The northbound lane on the Causeway had re-opened by late afternoon, but parts of the I-10, I-55 and I-12 were expected to remain closed through Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation and Development distributed more than 1.5 million pounds of salt to help melt ice on the routes.
The road closures did not stop some people from venturing out into the frigid weather by using alternate routes, though that decision, in at least one case, had an unpleasant result.
Jeff Winstead, a Covington resident who normally takes the Causeway bridge to get to work on the south shore, ended up driving to Slidell and taking Highway 11 to cross Lake Pontchartrain early Wednesday, before he swerved and hit a railing on the overpass on Franklin Avenue near Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
By about 10 a.m., he’d been waiting for a tow truck, with the heat cranked up in his red Mustang, for 45 minutes. The tow truck was due to arrive in another hour, he said.
“This would be the worst conditions I’ve ever driven in, by a long shot,” said the 30-year-old Winstead.
A New Orleans resident, Ryan Edward, had walked past Winstead and waved a while earlier.
Edward, 28, realized he left his phone at a friend’s house on St. Claude Avenue. But when he tried to start his ice-laden car, it wouldn’t budge, he said.
So he put on his jacket and walked -- all the way from his house on Franklin and Odin Street to Franklin and St. Claude and back -- in the freezing temperatures.
Overall, the trip took him more than five hours, and he fell down three times.
“I can’t believe I left my phone," he said.
Staff writers Jeff Adelson, Elizabeth Crisp, Sara Pagones, Richard Thompson, Faimon Roberts III and Ramon Vargas contributed to this report.