VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — A privately designed, unmanned rocket built to carry satellites was destroyed in an explosive fireball after suffering an “anomaly” off the California coast during its first attempt at reaching Earth’s orbit.
Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket was “terminated” over the Pacific Ocean shortly after its 6:59 p.m. Thursday liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base, according to a base statement. Video from the San Luis Obispo Tribune showed the explosion.
Firefly said an “anomaly” occurred during the first-stage ascent that “resulted in the loss of the vehicle” about two minutes, 30 seconds into the flight. Vandenberg said a team of investigators will try to determine what caused the failure.
The rocket was carrying a payload called DREAM, or the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission. It consisted of items from schools and other institutions, including small satellites and several demonstration spacecraft.
“While we did not meet all of our mission objectives, we did achieve a number of them: successful first stage ignition, liftoff of the pad, progression to supersonic speed, and we obtained a substantial amount of flight data,” Firefly said in a statement. The information will be applied to future missions.
Austin, Texas-based Firefly is developing various launch and space vehicles, including a lunar lander. Its Alpha rocket was designed to target the growing market for launching small satellites into Earth orbit.
Standing 95 feet (26 meters) high, the two-stage Alpha is designed to carry up to 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of payload into low orbit. The company wants to be capable of launching Alphas twice a month. Launches would have a starting price of $15 million, according to Firefly.
Firefly will have to catch up with two Long Beach, California-based companies that are ahead in the small satellite launch sector.
Rocket Lab has put 105 satellites into orbit with multiple launches from a site in New Zealand and is developing another launch complex in the U.S.
Virgin Orbit has put 17 satellites into space with two successful flights of its air-launched LauncherOne rocket, which is released from beneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747.
(CNN) — With the latest COVID-19 surge upending American life yet again, an official rollout of booster doses could begin within weeks, pending FDA authorization. And it’s likely that three doses of the vaccine are needed for full protection, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
He cited two Israeli-based studies that showed a decrease in infections among people who got a third or booster shot.
There was good reason to believe that a third dose “will actually be durable, and if it is durable, then you’re going to have very likely a three-dose regimen being the routine regimen,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a briefing Thursday.
It’s ultimately up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to decide whether Americans should get three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Fauci said. The agency is considering the question later this month after Moderna and Pfizer both applied for FDA authorization for a third dose either six months or eight months after getting the second dose.
The recommendation for the booster doses will likely lead to availability for a broad portion of the population, and doses could begin rolling out as early as the week of September 20, the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, said Thursday.
“At some point down the line, we may have a way of telling who needs an extra shot, and who doesn’t,” Murthy said on a call hosted by U.S. Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 Community Corps.
“Right now, we don’t have that indicator, which is why we’re recommending that not only people get vaccinated across the board — regardless of whether they were infected in the past or not — but also when it comes to getting these extra doses to sustain and extend your protection, that we do that broadly,” he said.
Additional doses were granted emergency use authorization by the FDA this month for those who are immunocompromised.
Even though the doses are not yet available to the public, local health departments nationwide have seen a recent surge in calls from people wanting to make appointments, according to the National Association of County and City Health Departments.
But the emphasis remains on increasing vaccination rates among the U.S. population to help overcome the pandemic. Approximately 52.7% of the total U.S. population are fully vaccinated. But of the 10 states with the worst COVID-19 case rates over the past week, seven of them also had among the 10 best vaccination rates, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And in states with lower vaccination rates, more children went to the hospital and emergency room, according to a new CDC study.
The research, published Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report, found hospitalizations and emergency room visits for children with COVID-19 increased from June to August. And in the two-week period in mid-to-late August, ER visits were 3.4 times higher in the states with the lowest vaccination rates while hospitalizations were 3.7 times higher than in states with the highest vaccination rates. The states with the lowest vaccination coverage were in the South.
Schools and universities enact safety measures
The risk of COVID-19 spread at schools and campuses remains critical, and recent research demonstrates how unmasked behavior among the unvaccinated can lead to outbreaks.
A study published Thursday described a COVID-19 outbreak among more than 150 students at a Chicago university after many unvaccinated students traveled during spring break, despite university policies that advised against it.
To prevent similar outbreaks, some universities have instituted mandates to attend classes in-person.
Virginia Tech disenrolled 134 students for failing to comply with the university’s requirement that students be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and “did not submit vaccination documentation or receive a medical or religious exemption,” according to a statement on Monday.
The University of Virginia has also disenrolled more than 200 students for failing to comply with their vaccine mandate, according to a statement last month.
Vaccinations in teens and adults can not only stave off infections at schools but can also protect children under 12 who are ineligible for the vaccine.
“Communities with high vaccination coverage are seeing lower pediatric cases and hospitalizations,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
Along with vaccinations, mask-wearing is also beneficial to curbing COVID-19 spread, evidence shows.
The state of New York will require weekly COVID-19 testing for teachers and other school employees, with an opt-out for those who are vaccinated, and will continue its mask mandate for everybody in a school building, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.
In Florida, districts will be able to institute mask mandates following a judge signing a written order Thursday that ruled against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on such mandates in schools. DeSantis said he will appeal.
New mu variant is under observation
A new coronavirus variant designated as mu by the World Health Organization is being monitored as a “variant of interest,” but federal health officials say they don’t consider it immediately dangerous.
On Tuesday, WHO designated the B.1.621 variant as a “variant of interest” because it carries mutations that could help it partially evade vaccines and treatments such as monoclonal antibodies. WHO named it mu under its system to designate important variants using the Greek alphabet.
“This variant has a constellation of mutations that suggests that it would evade certain antibodies,” Fauci said Thursday of mu. “Not only monoclonal antibodies, but vaccine and convalescent serum-induced antibodies. But there isn’t a lot of clinical data to suggest that — it is mostly laboratory, in vitro, data.
“Not to downplay it — we take it very seriously. But remember, even when you have variants that do diminish somewhat the efficacy of vaccines, the vaccines still are quite effective against variants of that type. Bottom line, we’re paying attention to it. We take everything like that seriously. But we don’t consider it an immediate threat right now,” he said.
The delta variant still accounts for more than 99% of COVID-19 cases diagnosed and sequenced in the United States, Walensky said Thursday, while mu is rare.
“We are watching it carefully,” she said.
LAPLACE, La. (AP) — Giant trees knocked sideways. Homes boarded up with plywood. Off-kilter street signs.
Less than a week after Hurricane Ida battered the Gulf Coast, President Joe Biden walked the streets of a hardhit Louisiana neighborhood on Friday and told local residents, “I know you’re hurting, I know you’re hurting.”
Biden pledged robust federal assistance to get people back on their feet and said the government already had distributed $100 million directly to individuals in the state in $500 checks to give them a first slice of critical help. Many people, he said, don’t know what help is available because they can’t get cellphone service.
Residents welcomed Biden’s presence, one of them drawing a sign with his last name and a heart for the dot on the “i.” They laughed and posed for selfies.
More formally, Biden met with state and local officials in LaPlace, a community between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that suffered major wind and water damage and was left with sheared-off roofs and flooded homes.
“I promise we’re going to have your back,” Biden said.
He also took a flyover tour of pummeled areas including Lafitte, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and Lafourche Parish, where Parish President Archie Chaisson said 25% of the homes in his community of 100,000 were gone or had catastrophic damage.
The president later met privately with Gov. John Bel Edwards, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, who is from Louisiana, and local officials including Chaisson.
The devastation was clear even as Air Force One approached New Orleans, with uprooted trees and blue tarps covering shredded houses coming into view. The road to LaPlace exhibited power-line wood poles jutting from the ground at odd angles.
Trips to natural disaster scenes have long been a feature of U.S. presidencies, moments to demonstrate compassion and show the public leadership during a crisis. They are also opportunities to hit pause, however temporarily, from the political sniping that often dominates Washington.
In shirtsleeves and boots, Biden was welcomed at the airport by Edwards, a Democrat. Several Republicans, including Sen. Bill Cassidy and Rep. Scalise, were also on hand.
Edwards said Biden has “been a tremendous partner,” adding that he intended to keep asking for help until the president said no.
In the aftermath of Ida, Biden is focusing anew on the threat posed by climate change and the prospect that disaster zone visits may become a more regular feature of the presidency. The storm has killed at least 14 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and at least 48 in the Northeastern U.S.
The president has pointed to that destruction to call for greater public resolve to confront climate change. His $1 trillion infrastructure legislation intends to ensure that vital networks connecting cities and states and the country as a whole can withstand the flooding, whirlwinds and damage caused by increasingly dangerous weather.
At Friday’s briefing with local officials, Biden insisted the infrastructure bill and an even more expansive measure later on would more effectively prepare the country.
“It seems to me we can save a whole lot of money, a whole lot of pain for our constituents, if we build back, rebuild it back in a better way,” Biden said. “I realize I’m selling as I’m talking.”
Sen. Cassidy tweeted later that in his conversation with Biden, “we spoke about the need for resiliency. We agreed putting power lines beneath the ground would have avoided all of this. The infrastructure bill has billions for grid resiliency.”
Past presidents have been defined in part by how they handled such crises.
Seemingly casually, Donald Trump lobbed paper towels to people in Puerto Rico after a hurricane, generating scorn from critics but little damage to his political standing. Barack Obama hugged New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy, a brief respite from partisan tensions that had threatened the economy. George W. Bush fell out of public favor after a poor and unprepared response to Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans in 2005.
Scientists say climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events — such as large tropical storms, and the droughts and heatwaves that create conditions for vast wildfires. U.S. weather officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month recorded in 142 years of record-keeping.
Biden’s nearly eight-month-old presidency has been shaped in part by perpetual crises. The president went to Texas in February after a cold winter storm caused the state’s power grid to fail, and he has closely monitored the wildfires in Western states.
Besides natural disasters, the president has had to contend with a multitude of other challenges. He is searching for ways to rescue the 100-200 Americans stuck in Afghanistan after the longest war in U.S. history ended a matter of days ago. He is also confronting the delta variant of the coronavirus that has plunged the country into an autumn of uncertainty only months after he declared independence from the disease at a July 4 celebration on the White House lawn.
Ida was the fifth-most powerful storm to strike the U.S. when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 150 mph (240 kph), likely causing tens of billions of dollars in flood, wind and other damage, including to the electrical grid. The storm’s remnants dropped devastating rainfall across parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, causing significant disruption to major cities.
Associated Press writers Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Christina Larson and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Friday directed the declassification of certain documents related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a supportive gesture to victims’ families who have long sought the records in hopes of implicating the Saudi government.
The order, coming little more than a week before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is a significant moment in a yearslong tussle between the government and the families over what classified information about the run-up to the attacks could be made public. That conflict was on display last month when many relatives, survivors and first responders came out against Biden’s participation in 9/11 memorial events if the documents remained classified.
Biden said Friday that he was making good on a campaign commitment by ordering the declassification review and pledged that his administration “will continue to engage respectfully with members of this community.”
“The significant events in question occurred two decades ago or longer, and they concern a tragic moment that continues to resonate in American history and in the lives of so many Americans,” the executive order states. “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, relying on classification only when narrowly tailored and necessary.”
The order directs the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies to begin a declassification review, and requires that declassified documents be released over the next six months.
Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, was among the World Trade Center victims and who is an advocate for other victims’ relatives, commended the action as a “critical first step.” He said the families would be closely watching the process to make sure that the Justice Department follows through and acts “in good faith.”
“The first test will be on 9/11, and the world will be watching. We look forward to thanking President Biden in person next week as he joins us at Ground Zero to honor those who died or were injured 20 years ago,” Eagleson said.
Still, the practical impact of the executive order and any new documents it might yield was not immediately clear. Public documents released in the last two decades, including by the 9/11 Commission, have detailed numerous Saudi entanglements but have not proved government complicity.
A long-running lawsuit in federal court in New York aims to hold the Saudi government accountable and alleges that Saudi officials provided significant support to some of the hijackers before the attacks. The lawsuit took a major step forward this year with the questioning under oath of former Saudi officials, and family members have long regarded the disclosure of declassified documents as an important step in making their case.
The Saudi government has denied any connection to the attacks.
Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida network was behind the attacks. Particular scrutiny has centered on the support offered to the first two hijackers to arrive in the U.S., Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, including from a Saudi national with ties to the Saudi government who helped the men find and lease an apartment in San Diego and who had earlier attracted FBI scrutiny.
Though many documents examining potential Saudi ties have been released, U.S. officials have long regarded other records as too sensitive for disclosure. On Thursday, victims’ families and survivors urged the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the FBI’s apparent inability to locate key pieces of evidence they’ve been seeking.
The Justice Department revealed last month that the FBI had recently completed an investigation examining certain 9/11 hijackers and potential co-conspirators, and that it was working toward providing more information.
Under the terms of the executive order, the FBI must complete by Sept. 11 its declassification review of documents from that probe, which it has referred to as the “Subfile Investigation.” Additional documents, including phone and bank records and investigative findings, are to be reviewed with an eye for disclosure over the course of the next six months.
PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio (AP) — The longtime tour production manager for country star Keith Urban has died after falling from a stage before an Ohio concert.
Randy “Baja” Fletcher, 72, died on Aug. 27 at a hospital after falling the previous day while preparing for Urban’s appearance at Bash on the Bay on the Lake Erie island of Put-in-Bay, The Port Clinton News-Herald reported.
Fletcher became Urban’s tour manager in 2011 after working for music stars such as Brooks & Dunn, Waylon Jennings, Randy Travis and ZZ Top.
Urban told Billboard magazine that Fletcher had an “orbit of light” that once you were in “would stay with you forever.”
“I loved him,” Urban said. “We all loved him, and I’m grateful he chose us as his road family for 10 years.”
Fletcher received the Country Music Association’s first Touring Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, describing his five-decade career as “unparalleled.”
His lone break from five decades of touring came in 1969 when he joined the U.S. Army and served a tour in Vietnam.
(CNN) — A group of Afghan women activists staged a small protest in Taliban-controlled Kabul Friday calling for equal rights and full participation in political life, CNN has confirmed.
In spite of the risk, a group called the Women’s Political Participation Network marched on the street in front of Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry, chanting slogans and holding signs demanding involvement in the Afghan government and calling for constitutional law.
Footage showed a brief confrontation between a Taliban guard and some of the women, and a man’s voice could be heard saying, “Go away!” before chanting resumed.
The gathering was relatively small — video of the scene livestreamed by the group showed just a few dozen demonstrators — but represented an unusual public challenge to Taliban rule.
The militant group are involved in internal discussions about forming a government, but have already signaled that working women should stay at home, and militants have in some instances ordered women to leave their workplaces.
Taliban leaders insist publicly that women will play a prominent role in society and have access to education. But the group’s public statements about adhering to their interpretation of Islamic values have stoked fears that there will be a return to the harsh policies of Taliban rule two decades ago, when women all but disappeared from public life.
Some Afghan women are already staying home out of fears for their safety, and some families are buying all-covering burqas for female relatives.
The demonstration in Kabul comes one day after women staged a similar demonstration in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat. Women in that protest held a large sign that said, “No government can be long lasting without the support of women. Our demands: The right to education and the right to work in all areas.”
Lina Haidari, a protester at the Herat demonstration, said the “rights and achievements of women, which we have worked and fought for over 20 years must not be ignored” under Taliban rule, according to video of the event from Getty Images.
“I want to say that I was forced to stay at home for the crime of being a student 20 years ago,” Haidari said in footage gathered by the agency, “And now 20 years later, for the crime of being a teacher and a woman.”
The protests come amid heightened fears over security under Taliban rule. A prominent Afghan activist said she did not take part in the Herat demonstration because of a direct threat. She spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity, fearing even expressing interest in the demonstration could subject her to reprisal.
Last month, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said women should not go to work for their own safety, undermining the group’s efforts to convince international observers that the group would be more tolerant towards women than when they were last in power.
Mujahid said the guidance to stay at home would be temporary, and would allow the group to find ways to ensure that women are not “treated in a disrespectful way” or “God forbid, hurt.” He admitted the measure was necessary because the Taliban’s soldiers “keep changing and are not trained.”
Worries about women’s fate prompted the World Bank to announce the same day that it was halting financial aid to the cash-strapped country.
In the early months of the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, women were increasingly isolated from society and became targets of harassment and attacks — including the high-profile murder of three female journalists in March.
In early July, insurgents walked into the offices of Azizi Bank in the southern city of Kandahar and ordered nine women working there to leave, Reuters reported. The female bank tellers were told that male relatives would take their place.
Pashtana Durrani, the founder and executive director of Learn, a nonprofit agency focused on education and women’s rights, said last month that she had run out of tears for her country: “We have been … mourning the fall of Afghanistan for now quite some time. So I’m not feeling very well. On the contrary, I’m feeling very hopeless.”
(CNN) — Things just got weird.
The adorable animated children’s television character Peppa Pig seems to have trolled rapper Kanye West on Twitter.
“Peppa didn’t need to host listening parties in the Mercedez-Benz stadium to get that .5,” a tweet from the official account for Peppa Pig read.
The message was in reference to “Peppa’s Adventures: The Album” receiving a better Pitchfork rating than West’s newly released album “Donda.”
West has yet to respond.
It’s unclear why this loveable pig wants to start beef with the outspoken artist. But the tweet was deleted shortly after it posted. CNN has reached out to the pig’s representatives and Nickelodeon, which airs the UK animated series “Peppa Pig” domestically, for comment.
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The intensive care rooms at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center are full, each a blinking jungle of tubes, wires and mechanical breathing machines. The patients nestled inside are a lot alike: All unvaccinated, mostly middle-aged or younger, paralyzed and sedated, reliant on life support and locked in a silent struggle against COVID-19.
But watch for a moment, and glimpses of who they were before the coronavirus become clear.
Artfully inked tattoos cover the tanned forearm of a man in his 30s. An expectant mother’s slightly swollen belly is briefly revealed as a nurse adjusts her position. The young woman is five months pregnant and hooked to a breathing machine.
Down the hall, another pregnant woman, just 24 and hooked to a ventilator, is lying prone — on top of her developing fetus — to get more air into her ravaged lungs.
Idaho hit a grim COVID-19 trifecta this week, reaching record numbers of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and ICU patients. Medical experts say the deeply conservative state will likely see 30,000 new infections a week by mid-September.
With a critical shortage of hospital beds and staff and one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, Idaho health providers are growing desperate and preparing to follow crisis standards of care, which call for giving scarce resources to patients most likely to survive.
St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center invited The Associated Press into its restricted ICUs this week in hopes that sharing the dire reality would prompt people to change their behavior.
“There is so much loss here, and so much of it is preventable. I’m not just talking about loss of life. Ultimately, it’s like loss of hope,” said Dr. Jim Souza, chief medical officer. “When the vaccines came out in December, those of us in health care were like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s like the cavalry coming over the hill.’ … To see now what’s playing out? It’s all so needless.”
Inside the ICUs, Kristen Connelly and fellow nurses frequently gather to turn over each patient, careful to avoid disconnecting the tangle of tubes and wires keeping them alive. With breathing tubes, feeding tubes and half a dozen hanging bags of medications intended to halt a cascade of organ damage, turning a patient is a dangerous but necessary endeavor that happens twice a day.
When Idaho’s hospitals were nearly overwhelmed with coronavirus patients last winter, Connelly wasn’t fazed, believing she could make a difference. Now, instead of focusing on one patient at a time, she cares for multiple. Many colleagues have quit, burned out by the relentless demands of the pandemic.
“At this point, I’m overwhelmed. I don’t have much left,” the 26-year ICU nursing veteran said Tuesday.
Connelly’s own life is in triage mode as she tries to maintain her last reservoirs of energy. She doesn’t eat at home anymore and has cut out all activities except for walking her dog. Her normally deep sense of compassion — which Connelly considers a critical job skill — has been shadowed by a seething anger she can’t shake.
“We had a mother-daughter team in the hospital last week, and the mother died and the daughter was still here,” Connelly said. “In that moment, I had a reprieve from the anger, because I got to be just overwhelmed with sadness.”
“It’s devastating,” she said. “Where we are right now is avoidable — we didn’t have to go here.”
All of the ICU coronavirus patients were generally healthy people who simply didn’t get vaccinated, Dr. Bill Dittrich said. Idaho could enact crisis care standards in days, leaving him to make gut-wrenching decisions about who gets life-saving treatment.
“I don’t think anybody will ever be ready to have the kinds of conversations and make the kinds of decisions that we’re concerned we’re going to have to be making in the next several weeks. I’m really terrified,” Dittrich said.
Most of the ICU patients fell prey to con artists before they fell ill with the virus, said Souza, the chief medical officer. He points to a patient who first tried the anti-parasite drug ivermectin. U.S. health officials have warned it should not be used to treat COVID-19. The man, in his 50s, refused standard medical treatments until he became so sick he needed to be hospitalized.
“What we’re left with is organ supportive therapy. Misinformation is hurting people and killing people,” Souza said.
What the science is clear on? Vaccines, he said. “We don’t have any vaccinated patients here.”
In deep-red Idaho, however, vaccinations, masks and nearly anything related to the coronavirus marks a de facto borderline between more traditional Republicans and the far-right.
Republican Gov. Brad Little urged residents this week to show love for their neighbors by getting vaccinated and announced he was using federal programs and mobilizing the Idaho National Guard to bring in hundreds of additional health care workers. In response, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin called the statement “shameful.”
McGeachin, who is running against Little in the Republican gubernatorial primary and has tried to bar schools and cities from from enacting mask rules, said people should make their “own health choices.”
The rift exists at the local level, too. Ada County commissioners voted to nominate a local pathologist to a regional public health board who has referred to COVID-19 vaccines as “needle rape” and the “clot shot.” Dr. Ryan Cole’s appointment still depends on votes by other county leaders.
Even families who have witnessed the trauma of COVID-19 firsthand are on opposite sides.
Lisa Owens’ 48-year-old stepbrother, Jeff Scott, has been in the Boise hospital’s ICU since early August.
“My kids call him the ‘Candy Man’ because he always brings candy when he comes,” Owens said. “He really is this kind, loving, jovial person, and I wish with all my heart that he’d gotten vaccinated.”
She’s vaccinated, along with about half of her extended family. But Jeff Scott, their aunt and uncle, Jeff’s daughter and a few others are not. Her stepbrother likely caught COVID-19 from the aunt and uncle, Owens said. The aunt was hospitalized — she developed blood clots from the virus — but has since recovered.
If anything, those experiences entrenched other relatives in their anti-vaccination beliefs, Owens said.
“Sure, they see Jeff in the hospital, but they also see his aunt and uncle, and they’re OK. The last update we had is even if he does recover, he’s looking at eight months of rehab,” she said. “If he pulls through, I’m going to march him into the nearest vaccine clinic myself.”
Owens fears her stepbrother may be taken off life support if someone with a better chance of survival needs the bed.
“I don’t even want to think about it. … I mean, he’s been in there for a month. If it comes to crisis standards of care, they’re going to say he’s not showing enough improvement, because he’s not,” she said, fighting back tears. “I hope he pulls through it.”
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Power should be restored to almost all of New Orleans by Wednesday, 10 days after Hurricane Ida destroyed the city’s electrical grid and left more than 1 million customers in Louisiana without power, utility officials said Friday.
Entergy, the company that provides electricity to the city, issued a statement asking for patience and acknowledging the heat and misery in Ida’s aftermath. More than 25,000 workers from 40 states are trying to fix 14,000 damaged poles, more than 2,200 broken transformers and more than 150 destroyed transmission structures.
“Please know that thousands of employees and contractors are currently in the field working day and night to restore power. We will continue working until every community is restored.” said Rod West, a group president for utility operations.
Customers with damage where power enters their home will need to fix it themselves, and there could be some smaller areas that take longer, the company said. The utility offered no promises for when the lights will come back on in the parishes east and south of New Orleans, which were battered for hours by winds of 100 mph (160 kph) or more.
In other developments, Louisiana health officials on Thursday announced an investigation into the deaths of four nursing home residents who were evacuated to a warehouse ahead of the severe weather.
The residents who died were among hundreds from seven nursing homes taken to the warehouse in Independence, where health officials received reports of people lying on mattresses on the floor, not being fed or changed and not being socially distanced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is currently ravaging the state.
A coroner classified three of the deaths as storm-related.
When a large team of state health inspectors showed up on Tuesday to investigate the warehouse, the owner of the nursing homes demanded that they leave immediately, Louisiana Department of Health spokesperson Aly Neel said.
Neel identified the owner as Bob Dean. Dean did not immediately respond Thursday to a telephone message left by The Associated Press at a number listed for him.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards promised a full investigation and “aggressive legal action” if warranted.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage after promising full federal support to Gulf Coast states and the Northeast, where Ida’s remnants dumped record-breaking rain and killed at least 50 people from Virginia to Connecticut.
At least 13 deaths were blamed on the storm in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including the three nursing home residents. Several deaths in the aftermath of the storm were blamed on carbon monoxide poisoning, which can happen if generators are run improperly.
“The most dangerous part of a hurricane is after the storm,” said Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez, who asked people to be careful around generators. ”Here it’s sadly happening again.”
About 850,000 people in Louisiana, including much of New Orleans, remained without power, down from the peak of around 1.1 million five days ago as the storm arrived with top winds of 150 mph (230 kph). It is tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to strike the mainland U.S.
Tens of thousands still have no drinking water in the midst of a sultry stretch of summer. Floodwaters still fill some communities, and lines for gas stretched for blocks in many places from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
Edwards said more than 220,000 people have already registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and 22,000 have applied for a federal program to place tarps on damaged roofs. About 72,000 “blue roofs” — tarps to protect protect homes with damaged roofs — may be needed across Louisiana, federal officials said.
“I know that people are anxious and tired,” Edwards said Thursday. “I know they’re hot. And the tempers can flare when they’re waiting in those long gas lines. I’m asking people to be patient.”
Some of New Orleans’ hospitals have had their regular power supply restored, said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department. A senior center has been converted to a place for residents to receive limited health care, she added at a Thursday briefing.
Declining numbers of coronavirus patients and restoration of power at additional sites helped the recovery at Louisiana’s largest hospital system. Ochsner Health CEO Warner Thomas said the system’s COVID-19 patient count fell to 663 from 990 about a week ago, Thomas said. That coincides with the state’s overall declining case numbers.