US declares public health emergency as New Orleans could be without power for weeks

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans residents faced a massive cleanup effort and possibly weeks without power following Hurricane Ida. Whole toppled trees blocked streets, pulled down power lines, covered yards and damaged homes.

With power likely to be out for weeks, John Pope said he would survive without electricity — with help from neighbors who have a generator — until a scheduled trip out of town next week.

Ehab Meselhe, a professor in Tulane’s engineering school, planned to head out of town once he and his wife finished cleaning up the tree branches and limbs littering their yard. “I have another house in Lafayette,” he said. “Once power is back, we’ll come back.”

A massive oak, toppled by Hurricane Ida, stretches across a New Orleans street, stretching utility lines and resting against the fronts of two houses on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)

A few blocks away, Hank Fanberg stuffed hurricane debris into a garbage back as generators roared on either side of his lightly damaged house. He said neighbors on both sides have generators and they have both already offered, “so we’re going to be in good shape in terms of some electricity.”

Sitting on a screened porch while listening to a battery-operated radio and feeding her one-year-old daughter, Pamela Mitchell wasn’t sure what she would do. She had already spent a hot and frightening night at home while Ida’s winds shrieked. She was thinking about trying to leave. But her 14-year-old daughter, Michelle, was determined to stay, preparing to clean out the refrigerator and put perishables in an ice chest. “We went a week before — with Zeta,” she said, recalling the hurricane that hit the city last fall. “So, we’ll be all right.”

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials also declared public health emergencies for Louisiana and Mississippi Monday, seeking to suspend government red tape that may get in the way of providing help to people affected by Hurricane Ida.

The emergency declaration by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra puts a pause on certain payment rules and other requirements that could become an unwelcome distraction for hospitals and doctors trying to provide services under stressful conditions.

One example is a requirement that health care professionals be licensed in the state they provide care.

HHS has also staged an incident management team in Dallas to provide coordination of federal health and medical support after Ida passes through the region. Another team is providing support for people needing kidney dialysis.

People in emotional distress in affected areas can call 1-800-985-5990 for counseling help, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

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