MARRERO, La. (AP) — Amid the dramatic devastation caused by Hurricane Ida, there was at least one bright light Sunday outside of New Orleans: Parishioners found that electricity had been restored to their church, a small improvement as residents of Louisiana struggle to regain some aspects of normal life.
In Jefferson Parish, the Rev. G. Amaldoss expected to celebrate Mass at St. Joachim Catholic Church in the parking lot, which was dotted with downed limbs. But when he swung open the doors of the church early Sunday, the sanctuary was bathed in light. That made an indoor service possible.
“Divine intervention,” Amaldoss said, pressing his hands together and looking toward the sky.
As Mass began, Amaldoss walked down the aisle of the church in his green robe, with just eight people spread among the pews. Instead, the seats brimmed with boxes of donated toothpaste, shampoo and canned vegetables.
“For all the people whose lives are saved and all the people whose lives are lost, we pray for them,” he said. “Remember the brothers and sisters driven by the wind and the water.”
Through the wall of windows behind the altar, beyond the swamp abutting the church, the floodgates that saved the building could be seen. The Gospel read out was the story of Jesus bringing sight to a blind man, and throughout the tiny church, stories of miracles were repeated.
Wynonia Lazaro gave thanks for newly restored power in her home, where the only casualties of Ida were some downed trees and loosened shingles.
“We are extremely blessed,” she said.
At least 16 deaths were blamed on Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In the Northeast, Ida’s remnants dumped record-breaking rain and killed at least 50 people from Virginia to Connecticut.
Some St. Joachim parishioners suffered total losses of their homes, or devastating damage, and others were barely touched. Gina Caulfield, a 64-year-old retired teacher, has been hopping from relative to relative after her cousin’s trailer, where she’d been living, was left uninhabitable. Still, she bowed her head in prayer, grateful to have survived the storm.
“It’s a comfort to know we have people praying for us,” she said.
Amaldoss said he had no doubt his congregants would rebuild their lives.
“People’s ability to come back is amazing, and that makes me happy,” he said.
But many continue to face food, water and gas shortages while battling heat and humidity a week after Ida struck.
Some parishes outside New Orleans were battered for hours by winds of 100 mph (160 kph) or more. Fully restoring electricity to some of these southeastern parishes could take until the end of the month, according to Entergy President and CEO Phillip May.
Ida damaged or destroyed more than 22,000 power poles, more than hurricanes Katrina, Zeta and Delta combined, an impact May called “staggering.” More than 5,200 transformers failed and nearly 26,000 spans of wire — the stretch of transmission wires between poles — were down.
More than 630,000 homes and businesses remained without power Sunday across southeast Louisiana, according to the state Public Service Commission. At the peak, 902,000 customers had lost power.
Entergy is in the process of acquiring air boats and other equipment needed to get power crews into swampy and marshy regions of the state. May said many grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses are a high priority.
“We will continue to work until every last light is on,” he said during a briefing Sunday.
In Jean Lafitte, a small town of about 2,000 people, pools of water along the roadway were receding Sunday and some of the thick mud left behind was beginning to dry.
At St. Anthony Church, the four feet (about 1.2 meters) of water once inside had seeped away, but a slippery layer of muck remained. Outside, the faithful sat on folding metal chairs under a blue tent to celebrate Mass. Next door, at the Piggly Wiggly, military police in fatigues stood guard.
“In times such like these, we come together and we help one another,” the Rev. Luke Nguyen, the church’s pastor, told a few dozen congregants.
Many in the area lost everything. Some of the congregants’ eyes filled with tears as they sang “Be Not Afraid.”
“We made it through,” said Cindy Sassoni, a deckhand in her family’s towboat business who rode out the storm on her son’s shrimp boat. “And this feels like safe harbor after the storm.”
Ronny Dufrene, a 39-year-old oil field worker from Lafayette, returned to his hometown to help, taking time to bow his head in prayer.
“People are taking pictures of where their houses used to be,” he said. “But this is a chance to get together and praise God for what we do have, and that’s each other.”
Louisiana’s 12 storm-related deaths included five nursing home residents evacuated ahead of the hurricane along with hundreds of other seniors to a warehouse in Louisiana, where health officials said conditions became unsafe.
On Saturday, State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter ordered the immediate closure of the seven nursing facilities that sent residents to the Tangipahoa Parish warehouse facility.
“The lack of regard for these vulnerable residents’ wellbeing is an affront to human dignity. We have lost trust in these nursing homes to provide adequate care for their residents,” Kanter said.
As recovery efforts continued, state officials were monitoring a system of disturbed weather in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche, which appeared set to move into the central Gulf of Mexico closer to Louisiana.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday the state is planning an exercise to assess its emergency response if needed. Predictions so far don’t show the system strengthening into a hurricane, but he said “even if it’s a tropical storm, we’re in no state to receive that much rainfall at this time.”
“How do you staff up shelters you need for the new storm and continue to test for COVID? My head’s getting painful just thinking about it,” Edwards said. “We will be as ready as we can be, but I’m praying we don’t have to deal with that.”
Johnson and Morrison reported from New Orleans.