Hurricane Zeta: Widespread Damage Leaves 1 Million Without Power

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After hitting the Louisiana coast as a Category 2 hurricane, Zeta’s strong winds caused widespread power outages in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.CreditCredit…Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

The storm is cutting off electricity all along its path.

Hurricane Zeta barraged the South with powerful winds on Thursday, shredding homes and businesses, knocking down trees and leaving about two million electricity customers without power.

The storm moved quickly, making landfall on the Louisiana coast as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday afternoon. Before the night was over, officials on the coast had already begun assessing the extent of the damage and deploying workers to begin restoring power.

But by Thursday afternoon, about 400,000 customers in Louisiana were still without electricity, according to Entergy Louisiana, while more than 500,000 across Georgia, about 465,000 in Alabama, more than 510,000 across the Carolinas and about 80,000 in Mississippi were also without power.

Emergency responders struggled to reach Grand Isle, a remote barrier island with some 1,400 residents on the Louisiana coast, that officials said was one of the areas hardest hit by the storm. Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Thursday that the community had been slammed with storm surge, and that it was difficult to reach as the highway leading had been blocked by impassable floodwaters and in one part by an oyster vessel that had been deposited by the storm.

Zeta had hit coastal areas with several feet of storm surge, but much of its wrath came from powerful winds. In New Orleans, the storm left behind a dark city. Local journalists shared images on social media showing the French Quarter devoid of light and life. The storm also unleashed floods in Louisiana and Mississippi. But many expressed relief that the damage wasn’t worse.

“We definitely made it through,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans said during a briefing on Wednesday night.

On Thursday, trucks and crews from numerous city departments cleared paths through the city streets. The sight was familiar to any New Orleanian who has ever watched the crews clear streets after Carnival parades: a flock of sanitation workers in dark blue pants and shirts with orange safety vests, using rakes and shovels to place garbage into gray plastic trash cans on wheels. “It’s like Mardi Gras but with trees,” said one worker as he tossed a full bag into the street’s median and began filling another.

Bill Edwards, 65, was glad to see the crews arrive, to scoop up what he and his gardener, Lionel LaGrone, 60, had stacked and raked near his house on Esplanade Avenue. He and other neighbors mournfully described the large spruce that had fallen farther down the street, near the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the live oak that had fallen on Bayou St. John near Orleans Avenue.

Mr. Edwards lost some shingles from his house, and some of his shutters were damaged. But no one nearby seemed to have suffered more than that. “Everybody made out pretty good.”

Of all the hurricanes Mr. Edwards has weathered at his house since buying it in 1983, others had brought more rain or had lingered longer. “But Zeta won the event on wind,” he said. The consensus in this hurricane-savvy town seemed to be that Zeta was “lean and mean” and could carry the wind farther than other wider storms, which seem to die down fast once they hit land. “They say that because this storm had such a tight center, it kept its stuff,” he said.

As it moved northeast, Zeta weakened into a tropical storm, and then a post-tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour. Zeta made its way through the Mid-Atlantic states on Thursday afternoon, and by 5 p.m. Eastern the National Hurricane Center said it was “zooming offshore.”

Three people have died, as officials warned of continued danger.

Credit…Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

At least three deaths have been attributed to the storm. The authorities said a man in his mid-50s was electrocuted by a downed power line in the Gert Town neighborhood of New Orleans on Wednesday while another man had presumably drowned in Biloxi, Miss., late that night. And early Thursday a man died in Cherokee County, Ga., when a tree fell onto a mobile home.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell also reported a person injured when a nearby building collapsed. Trees and debris blocked many streets, particularly the large thoroughfares known for their canopies of live oak trees.

Hurricane Zeta moved swiftly through the South, but officials warned residents not to venture out too quickly on Thursday. “Please, leave it up — please, leave it up — to public safety officials to manage the damage caused by Hurricane Zeta,” Ms. Cantrell said. “We do not want to lose another life. It is unnecessary.”

Zeta pounded a region that had been left hobbled and exhausted by a long and punishing season that has been one of the most active in more than a decade. It was the fifth named storm to hit Louisiana this year, and the 27th so far in the Atlantic season.

The storm intensified in strength in the final hours before landfall, nearly growing into a Category 3 storm. Yet the region benefited from Zeta’s rapid pace of roughly 20 m.p.h., which meant the communities in its path were spared from the deluges delivered by previous storms that had been much more sluggish.

Zeta made landfall around 4 p.m. local time in Cocodrie, La., a tiny fishing village in the constellation of coastal islands southwest of New Orleans in Terrebonne Parish. It then pushed northeast toward New Orleans, where the authorities said that by late Wednesday there were already reports of more than 200 downed trees.

Some early voting sites lost power in Georgia.

Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

After Hurricane Zeta’s forceful winds downed power lines and toppled trees across Georgia, widespread outages left more than 600,000 Georgians without electricity and took some of the state’s advanced voting locations offline Thursday — the penultimate day for early, in-person voting.

The final two days are among the busiest during Georgia’s early voting period, and voters faced delays Thursday morning as 15 of the state’s 159 counties opened polling sites late because of the storm, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said.

Locations with generators would have been able to open earlier despite losing electricity, Mr. Raffensperger said.

West of Atlanta, in Douglas County, all six early voting locations lost power as a result of the storm, while in neighboring Cobb County, four of the 11 advanced voting locations were closed. Wait times at three of Cobb County’s remaining open sites ranged from 60 to 90 minutes early Thursday afternoon. Voters in Gwinnett County, east of Atlanta, faced waits ranging from 10 minutes to nearly one hour.

Wait times reportedly remained under 30 minutes in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, although five early voting locations were temporarily without power as of midday Thursday. Voters encountered similar wait times in nearby DeKalb County, although only one polling place was affected by a power outage, according to the county.

Mr. Raffensperger said he anticipated counties that delayed opening Thursday morning would likely extend their hours into the evening to help voters make up for lost time.

As of Wednesday, more than 2.3 million Georgians had voted in-person during the three-week early voting period that began this month. And more than 1.1 million absentee ballots had been returned, according to the Secretary of State’s office. With turnout in Georgia up nearly 80 percent from 2016, Mr. Raffensperger said Wednesday in an interview with ABC News that he predicts as many as 6 million votes could be cast in total.

‘It could have been worse,’ the mayor of hurricane-scarred New Orleans said.

Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

Even with significant power outages and downed trees, officials and residents in Louisiana expressed gratitude Thursday that Hurricane Zeta’s wrath wasn’t more punishing.

“Please be patient,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans. “It could have been worse.”

Though there had been concerns about the city’s aging municipal drainage system, it was able to keep up with the rainfall’s inch-an-hour pace. Some of the lift stations used to move sewage had failed “in a variety of places,” said Ramsey Green, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure and operations, who told residents to expect to see the agency’s “loud yellow vehicles” working in manholes around town, providing power to failed lift stations.

Crews who had weathered the storm at the city’s Department of Parks and Parkways rolled out in trucks as soon as the winds died down, clearing meandering paths one-car wide through piles of greenery along Gentilly Boulevard and other tree-lined streets. Still, Mr. Green said, “There’s a ton of vegetation in the streets right now” and it would take time to clear.

Many residents sat outside after the storm, enjoying the 70-degree weather and checking on neighbors. But almost nothing commercial was open. Nearly all of the businesses that are the lifeblood of urban nightlife — gas stations, fast-food joints, mini-marts, bars — were closed.

On Royal Street in the Ninth Ward, Benny Naghi and his staff used flashlights to usher customers through his store, Mardi Gras Zone. He wanted to stay open, to serve his community, but he could only take cash, because his credit-card and cash machines had no electricity. That will continue until the bucket trucks and powerline repair crews are able to repair blown transformers and lines downed by Zeta’s high winds.

A few miles away, near where Elysian Fields Avenue meets Interstate 610, the bright lights of Brother’s Food Mart, powered by generators, were a bright beacon for the surrounding area. Its parking lot was jam-packed and lines of people had stretched out the door all through the night, as customers came to pump gas, use the store’s A.T.M., and buy groceries and cigarettes, said a clerk, Raad Assabahi, on Thursday morning.

“Everyone else was closed, we only were open,” Mr. Assabahi said. “And we haven’t stopped.”

In Mississippi, residents are exhausted and a bit relieved.

Credit…Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

Kenya Carter huddled with her husband and two children as the wind howled, like a train racing through her Gulfport, Miss., neighborhood. She heard tree limbs cracking and could feel her house rattle. It felt like it went on for hours. Finally the storm had passed, and the physical damage was limited. She and her family were safe. Still, she was shaken and found herself unprepared.

Ms. Carter, 39, thought Hurricane Zeta would skip over Gulfport, just as other storms had this season. She didn’t have gas in her truck and had to dig to find the candles and batteries she had bought long ago. “This storm taught me a lesson,” she said. “Just because we got bypassed by the other storms didn’t mean we’d get bypassed by this one.” Now, it will be at least a few days before her electricity returns.

In Gulfport, the largest city on the Mississippi coast, residents were out on Thursday clearing debris-littering streets, picking up limbs and shingles and covering holes left in their homes. There was a sense of exhaustion, from a long night of riding out the storm and the labor from the recovery that was just beginning.

But there was also a measure of relief. “I’m sorry for the people who lost their lives,” said Tanya Morrison, who has lived in Gulfport for more than a dozen years, “but I think a lot of people were very, very lucky.”

Next door, Samantha Jenkins finally found some charcoal and got her barbecue pit going. The utility company told her it would be at least a few days before her electricity was restored, and she did not want the meat in her refrigerator and freezer to go to waste. Like many in Gulfport, her main point of reference was Katrina, the monster storm that devastated the Mississippi coast in 2005. This time, it was the howling gusts whipping through her neighborhood. Downed power lines nearly ignited a bush outside her house. The wind picked up her aboveground pool and slammed it against her house. She and her extended family had all crowded in a single room. “Ten people and a dog,” she said.

On Thursday morning, she joined her neighbors in surveying their block, checking on older residents and raking up debris. She was wading through the litany of discomfort and inconveniences that follow a storm: “Only store open,” she said. “You can imagine that — chaos.”

But she was back with her family on Thursday afternoon, the battering gusts replaced by a breeze made all the more pleasant by the smell of barbecue from her grill. The damage was largely superficial. Her family was safe.

“By the grace of God, nothing happened,” she said.

A weakening Zeta brings wind and rain to the Mid-Atlantic.

Zeta has been downgraded to a post-tropical storm, but the National Hurricane Center warned of gusty winds, rainfall and possible tornadoes as it moved across Virginia.

Damage in the Carolinas and Georgia included power outages, downed trees and some flooding. In Elkin, N.C., Robert Luffman, 40, an amateur photographer was out documenting the aftermath: flooded streams, parks and streets.

“I travel for a living, and sometimes I don’t get to stop and look at stuff,” he said.

Zeta hit hard and fast, but Mr. Luffman, a truck driver, said it was nothing like some of the storms he has seen in the past, recalling when he delivered supplies to the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Hurricane Michael hit in Florida in 2018.

In Athens, Ga., Janet Frick, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, said there were high winds in the early morning and several streets were closed because of fallen trees, including one that landed on her neighbor’s garage. Her power was out from 6:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m.

Professor Frick, 51, said she had planned to work from home Thursday, but had to go to campus because she didn’t have power at home.

“I’m very thankful it was a quick-moving storm,” she said.

Rick Rojas, Katy Reckdahl, Christina Morales, Leighton Rowell and Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.

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