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Military helicopters fly over LaPlace on the morning after Hurricane Ida on Monday, August 30, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Gov. John Bel Edwards touched down by helicopter in a Walmart parking lot Tuesday morning in a devastated St. John the Baptist Parish, where Hurricane Ida just 48 hour earlier lashed residents with a catastrophic trio of winds, rain and storm surges. 

"We have a lot of work ahead of us. And no one is under the illusion that this is going to be a short process," Edwards said after getting briefed by local officials. "We're going to be with you all for the long haul."

Eight hundred people who stuck out the storm in St. John were rescued Monday by a team of local law enforcement officials and out-of-state volunteers, accounting for 80% of rescues statewide, Edwards said.

Infrastructure damage is still being assessed. Water remains out of service and there's no time frame when it will be restored. And power for much of the parish could be out for longer than 30 days, said Sheriff Mike Tregre. 

For evacuees thinking of returning home, Tregre said: "Just sit still."

Edwards said, "please don't come home before local officials tell you it's time."

For about 30 hours after the storm, there was no way to communicate within the parish, said St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard. That's picking up gradually, but 911 service remains spotty, Tregre said, warning "criminal elements" to stay away from the parish. A curfew is in place from dusk until dawn. 

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"Our jail is empty, so if anybody got the wrong idea, they're going to be in the jail alone," Tregre said. He also warned against contractor fraud and told residents not to pay any money up front for repairs. 

Edwards landed in St. John the Baptist Parish Tuesday as part of an aerial tour of Hurricane Ida's destruction that will take him over Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes and the towns of Jean Lafitte and Grand Isle. 

The Louisiana National Guard and American Red Cross are coordinating to bring in food and water for those that remain, and Edwards said their presence here "is going to grow and grow from here on forward until we're obviously not needed anymore."

Joining Edwards Tuesday was the Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell. She said FEMA teams will be walking around neighborhoods to help those without power or internet register for disaster relief. 

"This is actually the worst storm that I've seen in the whole time I've been in Louisiana," said state Rep. Randall Gaines, a LaPlace Democrat. "The damage is uniformly spread out across the entire parish. 

"It looks like a warzone or a bomb went off throughout the parish. There's no part that's unaffected," said state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco. 

"This is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. This is going to be very difficult. Worst disaster that we’ve all seen in St. John Parish. And it’s going to take a long time," Hotard said.


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater