The United States on Monday declared public health emergencies for the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, saying that it will help 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.
New Orleans residents faced a massive cleanup effort and possibly weeks without power. Whole toppled trees blocked streets, pulled down power lines, covered yards, and damaged homes. This has also affected medical services.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards' office says parishes that urged its residents to evacuate are encouraging people to stay away in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ida because it remains unsafe to return amid downed power lines, flooded homes, snapped trees, and other destruction.
The New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish, for example, was estimating it could take at least five days to restore the water system there. That's according to Edwards spokesperson Christina Stephens.
"The best advice is to stay put where you are" if you evacuated, Stephens said. "People who have evacuated out of the state should stay where they are right now."
With widespread AT&T cell service outages, many people were frantically trying to reach loved ones and were unsuccessful. But Stephens said people shouldn't return from their evacuation points to try and check on family and friends. Just because you can't get through by phone, "that does not necessarily mean that they are not OK," Stephens said. "We know that much of this is a communications problem."
Stephens said AT&T hasn't yet provided the governor's office with any estimates of when cell service will be restored.
According to Edwards' office, power company crews were doing a damage assessment of its power grid, but that it appeared the damage was "catastrophic."
Officials were estimating Monday that it could be weeks for full restoration in some areas.
Stephens said search and rescue was underway across many communities in southeast Louisiana, with particularly high water problems in Lafitte, LaPlace, the west bank of Jefferson Parish and the Houma/Thibodaux areas.
The state had more than 1,000 people conducting search and rescue operations, and many more local search and rescue operations were up and running as well.
Stephens said only one death has been confirmed from Ida, but she cautioned that based on the widespread destruction: "We're going to have many more confirmed fatalities."
The governor also tweeted that Ida "packed a very powerful punch" and "did everything that was advertised, unfortunately."
He wrote that levies in hard-hit areas "performed extremely well" for the most part, but that much of the state remains without power, water systems were out, and "we have tremendous damage to homes and businesses."