New Orleans, LA – One of the most consistent knock-on effects of damaging hurricanes are injuries and deaths of people who are improperly using portable home generators after the power goes out.
On Wednesday, three days after Hurricane Ida knocked out the electricity to most of the New Orleans area, officials worked to stem a frightening surge in people suffering carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator indoors or in poorly ventilated spaces.
A 24-year-old man found dead inside of his business in the 5100 block of Freret Street in Uptown about 4 p.m. Monday may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning brought on by his generator, New Orleans Police said.
Though the coroner’s office was still investigating the man’s cause of death Wednesday, and his name wasn’t immediately released, he was using a generator which was “not being properly ventilated” at the time officers found him dead, according to a police statement.
Wednesday morning, paramedics brought seven children and five adults to the hospital who were stricken with carbon monoxide poisoning while in a single home in the 1100 block of South Genois Street in Gert Town.
Half of the 12 people taken to the hospital were in critical condition, Jonathan Fourcade of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services said.
Across Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish, nine people from a Slidell area home were hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from a generator running in a garage attached to their home Monday night.
And in Jefferson Parish, emergency responders were rolling to as many as five carbon monoxide poisoning calls an hour as of Wednesday afternoon, said Councilman Scott Walker, citing information from the parish’s fire protection services.
“We have taken too many people to the hospital,” Walker said.
Households with generators fueled by gasoline, diesel or natural gas can supply themselves electricity in a limited fashion, making them valuable tools for people riding out the aftermath of a storm when power is out for an extended period of time. But when the generators burn off fuel, they produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can build up to lethal levels in enclosed spaces. People inhaling it typically don’t even realize what’s happening until it is too late.
That’s why public officials stressed this week that generators must be kept in well-ventilated, outdoor spaces at least 20 feet away from any homes or other enclosed places where people are sheltering.
“Please do not put your … generator inside your house,” New Orleans paramedic Titus Tero, a star of the documentary series “Nightwatch,” wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “Carbon monoxide is real. (You) can’t smell it but it can kill (you).”
He added, “Let’s (be) safe and alert. We (are) going on … too many of those calls.”