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U.S. Coast Guard Conducts SAR Missions After Hurricane Ida

altheartland
Image courtesy USCG Heartland

Published Sep 1, 2021 8:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hurricane Ida caused a tremendous amount of property damage in Southern Louisiana, and it knocked out electrical power for more than a million people, including most of New Orleans. The oil and gas hub of Port Fourchon sustained extensive wind and flooding damage, and it expects that the recovery will take weeks. As much as 20-30 percent of the state's shrimp boat fleet has been put out of service, according to Reuters, just as the shrimping season was getting started.

Though the physical damage may be significant, an early and proactive evacuation effort appears to have limited the human toll. Four deaths have been attributed to the storm, which tied with 2020's Hurricane Laura and the Last Island Hurricane of 1856 for the most powerful cyclone ever to make landfall in the state. Hurricane Laura, which passed directly through the Lake Charles region, killed 33 people statewide (including fatalities during the recovery period). 

So far, the U.S. Coast Guard has conducted just six search and rescue flights since Ida passed, saving a total of 13 people and assisting six more. Flight crews from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans, Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile and Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod have all contributed to the effort, putting in a total flight time of about 28 hours. 

On August 30, a Dolphin helicopter crew responded to a report that a man in the town of Leeville had been struck in the head during the storm by a window. The aircrew landed on a highway, took the patient on board and flew him to West Jefferson Hospital in Marrero in stable condition.

On the same day, the Coast Guard received a report that a shrimp boat in Port Sulphur had caught fire and one of the crew members had managed to swim to shore. A Dolphin helicopter aircrew landed on the highway in nighttime conditions, navigating downed power lines and debris, and transferred the victim to West Jefferson Hospital.

Two evacuation requests came from Grand Isle, a barrier island community which was nearly obliterated by Ida's high winds. On August 30, a Jayhawk aircrew landed on a beach in Grand Isle to check for signs of distress and found eight people who were stranded in a damaged hotel. The aircrew evacuated them to safety. The next day, a Dolphin helicopter aircrew responded to a report of two men in Grand Isle who needed medical assistance - one with complications from a preexisting condition and the other with a leg injury. The patients were transferred to University Medical Center in New Orleans. 

Property damage assessments continue, and Louisiana officials have asked residents who evacuated hard-hit regions to stay away until basic services are restored. Power outages are widespread, and some localities - like Lafourche Parish - are without running water or sewage service. Electric utility Entergy, which supplies power to most of the state, said Wednesday that it has an uphill battle ahead as it works to restore service. 

"With extensive damage to the system across the region, much of the redundancy built into the electric system is limited," Entergy said in a statement. "This makes it difficult to move power around the region to customers, and limits options to power customers in the event of equipment failure."