Zeta knocks out power for mil­lions in the South

The Washington Post - - ELEC­TION 2020 - BY ASH­LEY CUSICK na­tional@wash­post.com

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?”

CHRIS GRANGER/AD­VO­CATE/AS­SO­CI­ATED POST

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.

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