The Greatest Killer in New Orleans Wasn’t the Hurricane. It Was the Heat.

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A major power failure after Hurricane Ida left vulnerable residents living in apartments for several days. At least 10 deaths in the city have been tied to the heat.

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NEW ORLEANS — In many ways, Elie Joseph’s one-bedroom apartment was the perfect place to ride out a storm. It was on the third floor – too high to flood – a building that was sturdier and newer, part of a sleek, gated community for older residents like him.


But in the days after Hurricane Ida, his house was beginning to look like a trap. A massive power failure that cut power to New Orleans rendered Mr. Joseph’s air-conditioner useless and his refrigerator was nothing more than a cupboard. Worse, the outage sealed the building’s elevators in place, sealing her inside the building because her health problems prevented her from using the stairs.

Mr Joseph, 73, insisted in a telephone conversation with his sons that he was doing fine. But the heat was increasing in his apartment number 312. On September 2, the fourth day after the storm – the hottest ever – a friend found her lying on the side of her bed.

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“I call his name, he doesn’t answer,” said friend Jared Righteous. “I realized he was gone.”

Only in recent days, as the last lights twinkled back in New Orleans, have officials here discovered the true toll of Hurricane Ida. Unlike the Northeast, where many people were killed by floodwaters and tornadoes, heat has emerged as the biggest killer in New Orleans.

Of the 14 deaths caused by the storm in the city, Mr Joseph and nine others are believed to be tied to the heat. Experts say there are probably more. And friends of those who died have begun to ask whether the government or apartment landlords could have done more to protect older residents before they died, often in lonely, harshly heated homes.

“Heat is a threat we haven’t paid enough attention to,” said David Hondula, a professor at Arizona State University who studies the effects of declining temperatures. “All cities are in the early stages of understanding what an effective heat response looks like.”

In New Orleans, officials set up air-conditioned cooling centers across the city and distributed food, water and ice around the city. But for residents like Mr. Joseph who could not leave their buildings, aid could also be worlds away.

All 10 people who died from the heat were in their 60s and 70s, and they died in four days, the last of which was September 5, a full week after the storm.

The first was Corinne Labat-Hingle, a 70-year-old woman who fled to Memphis during Hurricane Katrina But returned to New Orleans and was living in an apartment complex for older people near St. Bernard Avenue, a short walk from the city’s largest park. She was found dead on September 2, when the temperature outside had reached 93 degrees and was most likely inside her apartment. Two days later, on another 93-degree day, four people were found dead, including 74-year-old Reginald Logan, whose body was discovered after A neighbor saw flies in his window. On 5 September, the heat index reached 101, and one of the last victims of the heat was found dead: Keith Law, a 65-year-old man who lived in the Algiers neighborhood.

Professor Hondula said the heat contributes to more deaths each year than there are officially recorded deaths. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports fewer than 700 heat-related deaths annually, some studies have estimated 5,000 to 12,000. Last month, it found that 600 more people died during a heat wave in Oregon and Washington in the last week of June, more than three times what state officials normally estimate for heat-related deaths.

People who die from heat may not recognize their symptoms as life-threatening, and with little warning, heat-related deaths can also happen suddenly. The most common cause is cardiovascular failure, when the heart cannot pump blood fast enough. Deaths from heat stroke are rare, when a person’s internal temperature rises several degrees and the body is unable to cool down, causing organ failure such as the brain, heart or kidneys.

New Orleans photographer Laura Bergerol, 65, died on September 5. He had planned to evacuate Florida before the storm, but told friends he had trouble finding a hotel room. By the time he arranged plans, it was too dangerous to leave. After the storm, she didn’t have enough money to get out because of a $400 false charge on her bank account. She stocked candles and crouched down in her second-floor apartment in an affordable complex built for artists in the Bywater neighborhood downriver from the French Quarter.

“Missed my window of opportunity,” she wrote on Twitter. “Bless you #HurricaneIda.”

Neighbors said Ms. Bergerol mostly stayed in her apartment with the doors and windows closed. Still, she seemed to be alive. On September 3, she texted a neighbor, Josh Haley, asking if she could visit her cat while he was out. “I have a lot of treats,” she wrote. The next day, she joined neighbors in the building’s courtyard for a performance of “Cinderella.”

On Sunday Mr. Hailey let himself into his apartment when he did not answer the door. He found her lying on the floor and tried to revive her, but it was too late. That evening, neighbors played brass-band music in the courtyard and danced for Ms. Bergerol, recalling her vivid blue eyes and persistent, wide smile.

By then, the city’s health officials were beginning to realize the danger the older residents were facing. The day before Ms. Bergerol’s death, she vacated eight apartments for older residents, which had killed many. Now, city officials are considering whether subsidized apartments serving elderly or disabled residents have generators, conduct welfare checks or have a building manager on the property at all times, a spokesman said. Is.

The proposed measures are gaining momentum partly because of deaths like those of Mr Joseph, the man who was trapped in Apartment 312.

Mr. Joseph was quite famous in the Village de Jardin affordable premises For people age 55 and older in New Orleans East. It is owned by the Louisiana Housing Corporation, a state agency, and managed by Latter & Blum, a large real estate company that manages properties in several states. The housing agency said Latter & Blum had encouraged tenants to vacate and then, after the storm, brought cooling buses to the property and supplies to tenants who chose to stay.

Mr. Joseph had retired from a job selling car parts years ago. He often chatted with neighbors, and his routine included grabbing coffee and beignets around town. He was known for his faith, his love for his family and, to some people, his trademark answer, “Yes, really”, which led his grandchildren to call him Grandfather Yes indeed. Many knew him for his humour, thus befriending 45-year-old Mr. Rightius, who was attracted to Mr. Joseph when he was telling jokes at an event hosted by the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.

In the days following the storm, neighbors searched for Mr. Joseph, who was subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A friend brought him a hot plate of food. A neighbor across the hall used a car battery and an inverter to charge Mr. Joseph’s phone.

But September 2 was the worst day ever. At around 1:45 pm, the heat index was close to 103, and Mr. Joseph’s phone was switched off again. He patted his head outside his door and gestured for a woman in the hallway to come closer. A woman named Rhonda Quinn thought she looked unwell and asked if she needed some air. She joked that after days in the heat, she smelled too bad to go outside, she said.

He said that all he needed was to charge his phone to make calls. Ms. Quinn looked for someone to help, but when she tried to return the phone shortly before 3 p.m., she didn’t respond to repeated knocks. She assumed he had gone out, and she left.

Shortly after, Mr. Joseph’s friends from the church came into the parking lot of the complex with bags of Mr. Righteous Oatmeal Cream Pie and other snacks. Even after knocking on Mr. Joseph’s door, he did not get any reply. When he opened it, he saw that Mr. Joseph leaned to one side of the bed, as if he were sitting on its side and looking out the window.

His death leaves his two sons sad and stunned, unable to understand how their father could destroy it only in heat without scratching it through the wrath of a storm.

“He didn’t die from a flood, he didn’t die from a bolt of lightning,” said his eldest son, Eli Joseph Jr., 45. “It’s just, he’s gone.”

Sophie Kasakov Contributed reporting from New Orleans. Susan C. Beacheo and Sheilagh McNeil contributed to the research.

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