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Tens Of Thousands Still Don't Have Power After Hurricane Ida As Evacuations Continue

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Four days after Hurricane Ida slammed southeast Louisiana, conditions there are becoming unbearable. Tens of thousands of people are without power or clean water or access to gas. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on efforts to stave off a looming public health crisis.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: At a gym turned evacuation point, Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies lower the wheelchair lift on a green trolley from Gretna, La.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You're welcome.

ELLIOTT: Linda Stewart drives her wheelchair off the shuttle bus and retrieves a blue rolling suitcase packed with some clothes and essentials.

LINDA STEWART: The mayor told us we needed to evacuate. We live in this - we're senior citizens from St. Joseph's Apartments in Gretna.

ELLIOTT: She reluctantly agreed to leave with rainwater flooding her apartment. Now she's waiting to catch a bus bound for a critical need shelter in Alexandria, a more than three-hour trip north.

STEWART: Now, I've never been to a shelter before. So that's - I'm kind of - that's why I wanted to stay. So I don't know what to expect.

ELLIOTT: Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng is telling vulnerable residents that it will be better for them there, given the lack of electricity, gas and emergency resources here. She's also urging people who evacuated ahead of Ida not to come back and warns if they do, they're on their own.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CYNTHIA LEE SHENG: If you cannot sustain yourself, if you can't take care of yourself, government can help you, but it just can't be within this parish at this moment.

ELLIOTT: The same message is coming from other parishes devastated by Ida, where it will be weeks, if not months before critical infrastructure is restored. For now, communities are relying on emergency distribution points to get food, water, ice and blue tarps to protect damaged property. While some power has been restored to parts of New Orleans, others remain in the dark, and it's taking a toll. City officials say they plan to open a special needs shelter at the convention center in the coming days.

In the meantime, the evacuation point in Jefferson Parish just across the Mississippi River is a godsend for Melinda Pou, the site manager for Magnolia Villas, a home in New Orleans for the chronically homeless. She drove here with a van full of elderly and ill residents. She has one word for the last four days.

MELINDA POU: Hell.

ELLIOTT: Pugh says she could never get through, despite repeated calls to emergency numbers in New Orleans.

POU: They need to have a better plan for the people who are in need. Like, my facility - these are homeless individuals with different disabilities. And once the city shut down, you know, I'm stuck.

ELLIOTT: A colleague discovered this evacuation point and helped her get the 30 fragile residents under her care transported here.

POU: As much as I want to leave them, I could not leave them because my conscience is not going to let me leave them. So I am relieved that he found this place so I can do what I need to do with myself.

ELLIOTT: The exhaustion and frustration here are palpable. Twenty-three-year-old Brandon Dosage is disabled from a car accident. Because of breakdowns in the communication system, he also could not get through on city emergency lines for help, leaving his fourth-floor apartment when the power went down. Some friends came to his rescue and brought him to this evacuation point. Dosage feels like elected officials left him stranded.

BRANDON DOSAGE: But, you know, they give these news bulletins, giving people in the city false hope. Like, you know, the city's NOLA strong. It's not NOLA strong. A select few people that NOLA strong. They got generators - that's NOLA strong. Nobody's being NOLA strong out here. Everybody NOLA hot and NOLA agitated.

ELLIOTT: Dosage and others say their situation is evidence that the system is still broken, 16 years after the hard lessons of Hurricane Katrina.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, New Orleans.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUDASAIBEATS' "ATTACHED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.