With Hurricane Ida ripping across Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said first responders won't be able to answer search and rescue calls until daylight Monday morning at the earliest.
"It's weather dependent and quite frankly, before the weather gets good enough for us to respond it's also going to be dark," Edwards said. "We will be ready at first light tomorrow morning to go out to those areas that we know already have received the most damaging impacts from the storm."
The Category 4 storm slammed into Port Fourchon near Grand Isle Sunday just before noon with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour and a storm surge of 16 feet, making landfall as one of the strongest storms to hit Louisiana since the 1850s.
"We're just getting started," Edwards said, adding that the state is anticipating the levees in LaRose and lower Lafourche Parish to be overtopped as will some levees in St. Bernard Parish.
As hurricane Ida bears down on southeastern Louisiana Sunday, residents should prepare for delays in emergency response times, Baton Rouge Fir…
Requests for help have already poured in from some of the 75 or so people who stayed to weather the storm on nearby Grand Isle. But rescue operations there and elsewhere will have to wait until at least dawn Monday, the governor said.
"Nobody should be expecting that tonight a first responder is going to be able to answer a call for help," Edwards said.
This is why the state tells people to be prepared to handle the first 72 hours after a storm on their own, Edwards said. Luckily, he added, around 98% of Grand Isle residents evacuated ahead of the storm.
"It doesn't help anyone to dispatch first responders on a call if you're actually going to cause the first responder to be in a very bad situation in terms of either getting hurt or killed or just being stuck where they then have to ride it out there or you send somebody else," Edwards said.
New Orleans emergency medical services suspended operations just before noon Sunday due to dangerous winds. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office also began the process of having its deputies shelter in place around noon.
The entirety of the Louisiana National Guard has been activated to respond to the storm's aftermath. That includes more than 4,900 guardsmen who will lead search and rescue efforts across 14 parishes with 195 high water vehicles, 73 boats and 34 helicopters.
But that equipment can't operate in hurricane conditions.
Edwards spent Saturday evening calling governors across the country and asking for reinforcements. Sixteen states responded and have sent a total of 900 people to assist in search and rescue operations.
Angel Bijou didn't realize how serious the Hurricane Ida forecast was until Saturday night.
The vast majority of individuals that needed to evacuate did, Edwards said. Starting tonight, however, he expects the state to begin receiving calls from individuals who need to be rescued because they decided to stay behind.
Louisiana also evacuated 22 nursing homes, 18 assisted living facilities, 61 intermediate care facilities and four small hospitals, Edwards said.
None of the state's Tier 1 hospitals, which care for the sickest patients, have been evacuated "because simply put there's nowhere to bring those individuals," Edwards said.
Hurricane Ida is hitting Louisiana just as it emerges from one of it's deadliest weeks of the pandemic, with 347 COVID-19 fatalities over the seven day period ending Friday.
There were 2,450 COVID-19 patients in Louisiana’s hospitals as of Sunday, around 500 fewer patients than a week ago, but still far too many to begin evacuating them elsewhere, Edwards said.
Ida is expected to cause wide swaths of the state to go without power, and Edwards said his priority will be restoring power and supplying back-up generators to hospitals full of COVID patients.
As of Saturday afternoon, there were 1,542 people sheltered at 23 sites across the state. There's enough space at those facilities to house up to 10,322 people.
That's less capacity than usual, Edwards said, because of pandemic social distancing considerations and masking requirements, but there are plans in place to open additional facilities if needed.
For more information on shelters, text "LASHELTER" to 898-211 or call 211.
"I know it may not seem this way right now for many people out there across our state, but there is always light after darkness, and I can assure you we’re going to get through this," Edwards said.
Staff writer Amie Just contributed to this story.