In the most devastated places, “Power outages will last weeks to possibly months,” the National Hurricane Center said. “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
The onslaught of stress, grief and logistical nightmares can seem overwhelming. But experts say these tips can help victims stay safe, get help, protect their emotional health and take the first steps toward recovery:
And even after roads are reopened, drivers must stay vigilant for remaining hazards, Louisiana State Police said.
Ida’s trail of destruction includes flooding in several states.
Use extreme caution when you get home
“Walk carefully around the outside of your home to check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage,” the National Weather Service says.
If you must use lighting, carry a battery-powered flashlight, not candles or gas-powered lanterns.
Minimize the risk of electrocution
Flooded homes require additional precautions to prevent electrocution.
“If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.”
Photograph the damage and seek help if needed
Clean safely and beware of mold
“Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.”
Any remaining floodwater can contain sewage and other hazards that can be difficult to see.
“While skin contact with floodwater doesn’t pose a serious health risk by itself, eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater can cause diseases.”
Don’t succumb to deadly heat
Some Hurricane Ida survivors won’t have power for weeks — a potentially deadly scenario for those grappling with extreme heat without air conditioning.
“They’ve got to evacuate. It’s not what they want to do, it’s what they got to do if they want to stay alive,” said retired US Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led Task Force Katrina following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Maybe there’ll be a few hardy (people) that will figure out how to do it,” Honoré told CNN on Tuesday.
“But your elderly and people with children, they just need to go take a FEMA vacation. Have FEMA give them a voucher to a hotel and count your blessing that you’re still alive.”
If you’re returning home just to start the cleaning process or take care of other tasks, be sure to pace yourself in the heat.
Use generators safely and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
Generators can be immensely helpful for storm victims without power. They can also be deadly when used incorrectly.
“Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms in areas dealing with power outages,” the National Weather Service says.
“Only use generators outside, more than 20 feet away from your home, doors, and windows,” the NWS says.
Be extra cautious when using gas-powered appliances, as they can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Make sure your food and water supplies are safe
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible until the power comes back. If it’s been less than four hours, food is still safe to eat. Otherwise, the food can be spoiled and cause serious illness.
“When in doubt, throw it out,” the CDC says.
Throw away any food that may have come into contact with floodwater or stormwater, perishable food that may have not been refrigerated properly and anything that does not look, smell or feel like it should.
If your area is under a boil water advisory, take that guidance seriously. If it’s not possible to boil water, use bottled water.
But never use contaminated water — either suspected or confirmed — to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice or make baby formula.
Take care of your emotional health
“Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says.
When logistical nightmares collide with overwhelming emotions, don’t try to tough it out alone. That can actually impede your recovery, the CDC says.
“Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster.”
Storm victims can contact SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline by calling or texting 1-800-985-5990.
The helpline “is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster,” SAMHSA’s website says.
“Our staff members provide counseling and support before, during, and after disasters and refer people to local disaster-related resources for follow-up care and support.”
CNN’s Theresa Waldrop and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.