Zeta knocks out power for millions in the South
NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Storm Zeta quickly moved across the South on Wednesday and Thursday, downing trees, destroying property and leaving millions without power.
According to authorities and local media, at least six people died as the storm raked across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas before weakening over the Mid-atlantic and heading out to sea.
Millions lost power throughout the region, including about two-thirds of New Orleans’s 391,000 residents. The storm was the third to strike Louisiana in a span of just two months, and the first to hit vulnerable New Orleans. The eye of the hurricane passed over the city, but the damage here was less serious than many feared.
“The good news is that we’ve come through,” Mayor Latoya Cantrell (D) said.
The storm knocked out power to early-voting sites during the second-to-last day of early voting in Georgia, where polls show tight presidential and congressional races. Ari Schaffer, a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said the storm impacted voting in 17 counties, mostly causing them to open late. At least one location implemented manual voting, using emergency ballots that are hand-marked instead of being marked by a machine, he said.
In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said restoring power before Election Day is a top priority. He said the possibility that some polling places might not have power is “a big wrinkle that we haven’t had to deal with in the past.”
An election task force worked with energy providers in advance of the storm to identify all polling sites, clerks of court and registrar of voter offices. Power restoration will be prioritized at those locations, Edwards said. But officials must assess quickly whether power can be restored at polling sites in advance of Tuesday. If it cannot, there will be limited time to make alternative plans for Election Day and to inform voters of those plans, he said.
“There’s a very elaborate statutory scheme for emergency plans during elections,” Edwards said. “It’s very hard to make those changes within the time we have left.”
Zeta, which slammed ashore in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane Wednesday, was primarily a wind event, and trees fell and buildings were destroyed throughout the region. Storm surge along the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines caused flooding. Grand Isle, La., faced the most significant damage in the state as levees on the Gulf of Mexico breached in three locations, Edwards said. The highway to the island remained flooded out Thursday, making access difficult.
It has been a long hurricane season in Louisiana, with three major storms making landfall here in a matter of months. More than 3,000 Louisianans remained in shelters Thursday after evacuating from Hurricanes Laura, Delta and now Zeta, and another system was forming in the Caribbean this week.
“We’re not especially worried about it yet, but let’s pray it away,” Edwards said.
New Orleanians spent Thursday morning raking leaves into bags and sweeping sidewalks clear of debris. Traffic slowed as cars navigated twisted stop signs and intersections without signals. On St. Charles Avenue, fallen tree branches covered the streetcar tracks.
In the Uptown neighborhood, Alice Parkerson spent the morning raking up the leaves that covered her sidewalk.
“I’ve got electricity. No cable. But I feel grateful,” she said. “I’ve got family and friends in Mississippi who got it a lot worse.”
Parkerson said relatives in Pass Christian, Miss., lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and again experienced flooding from Zeta
Parkerson is ready for this year’s brutal hurricane season to come to an end.
“I was raised here. Hurricane seasons are different than when I was a child,” she said. “There’s a lot more ambiguity now than we used to have.”
In the Marigny neighborhood, people posed for photos atop a large cracked tree that laid sideways across a busy street.
Ali Haghighi owns Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop, which sat adjacent to the downed tree. Haghighi felt fortunate the tree fell into the open street rather than onto his business, which remained open Thursday despite having no power.
Though his business was dark, Haghighi encouraged those inspecting the fallen tree to come inside and grab a warm drink.
“We’ve got no power. Except the power of our brains,” he said, laughing.
In the French Quarter, power was largely restored Thursday afternoon, and tourists strolled the streets donning Mardi Gras beads and sipping drinks in the neon-lit Bourbon Street bars.
Outside Galatoire’s, a historic New Orleans restaurant, four smiling women spilled out of a car wearing black dresses, high heels and purple witch hats.
Colleen Johnson, one of the four, said the group had planned to attend a monthly luncheon at Galatoire’s the day before, but they had to cancel because of Zeta.
Johnson resides in Harvey, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans and said the storm was a frightening experience.
“It was so scary. Oh my God, it was terrible,” she said.
Her friends agreed but said they all were happy the damage was not worse. They decided a festive gathering was in order.
“We’ve got no power,” Johnson said. “So we were like, why not?”
Billy Dishman on Thursday tosses marsh grass that piled up at his fishing camp in Cocodrie, La., during Zeta, which slammed ashore in Louisiana on Wednesday as a Category 2 hurricane.