Hurricane Ida rapidly intensifies into dangerous category 4 storm

Hurricane Ida has rapidly intensified, becoming a dangerous category 4 hurricane early on Sunday (Sunday night AEST) on track for a potentially devastating landfall on the Louisiana coast.

Emergency officials in the region are grappling with opening shelters for displaced evacuees despite the risks of spreading the coronavirus.

Forecasters warned residents along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast to rush preparations Saturday ahead of an intensifying Hurricane Ida, which is expected to bring winds as high as 209 k/ph, life-threatening storm surge and flooding rain when it slams ashore in Louisiana on Sunday.
Forecasters warned residents along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast to rush preparations Saturday ahead of an intensifying Hurricane Ida, which is expected to bring winds as high as 209 k/ph, life-threatening storm surge and flooding rain when it slams ashore in Louisiana on Sunday. ((NOAA via AP))

The system was expected to make landfall on Sunday afternoon (Monday AEST), the exact date Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi 16 years earlier.

The storm was about 100km south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and 13km south-southeast of coastal Grand Isle, Louisiana. It was traveling northwest at 24km/h.

The storm threatened a region already reeling from a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, thanks to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious Delta variant.

New Orleans hospitals planned to ride out the storm with their beds nearly full, as similarly stressed hospitals elsewhere had little room for evacuated patients.

Shelters for those fleeing their homes carry an added risk of becoming flash points for new infections.

Governor John Bel Edwards vowed on Saturday that Louisiana’s “resilient and tough people” would weather the storm.

He also noted shelters would operate with reduced capacities “to reflect the realities of COVID.”

A man sits in front of a French Quarter business with windows boarded in preparation Hurricane Ida. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A man sits in front of a French Quarter business with windows boarded in preparation Hurricane Ida. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (AP)

Mr Edwards said Louisiana officials were already working to find hotel rooms for many evacuees so that fewer had to stay in mass shelters.

He noted that during last year’s hurricane season, Louisiana found rooms for 20,000 people.

“So, we know how to do this,” he said.

“I hope and pray we don’t have to do it anywhere near that extent.”

In coastal Gulfport, Mississippi, a Red Cross shelter posted signs displaying directions for evacuees along with warnings about COVID-19. With skies still sunny, only a handful of people had shown up Saturday evening.

Shelter manager Barbara Casterlin said workers were required to wear face masks. Evacuees were encouraged to do the same. Anyone who refused would be sent to an isolated area, she said, and so would people who were sick.

Interstate 10 near Slidell is packed with evacuees heading east Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, as Hurricane Ida, forecast to become a Category 4 storm, approaches. (AP)

“We’re not checking vaccinations,” Ms Casterlin said, “but we are doing temperature checks two or three times a day.”

US President Joe Biden approved emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi ahead of Ida’s arrival.

Comparisons to the August 29, 2005, landfall of Katrina weighed heavily on residents bracing for Ida.

A category 3 storm, Katrina was blamed for 1800 deaths as it demolished oceanfront homes in Mississippi and caused levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans.

In Saucier, Mississippi, Alex and Angela Bennett spent Saturday afternoon filling sand bags to place around their flood-prone home.

Both survived Katrina, and didn’t expect Ida to cause nearly as much destruction where they live, based on forecasts.

“Katrina was terrible. This ain’t gonna be nothing,” Alex Bennett said.

“I hate it for Louisiana, but I’m happy for us.”

In preparation of Hurricane Ida, a workers attach protective plywood to windows and doors of a business in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Saturday, August 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In preparation of Hurricane Ida, a workers attach protective plywood to windows and doors of a business in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Saturday, August 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (AP)

Long lines formed at petrol pumps on Saturday as people rushed to escape. Trucks pulling saltwater fishing boats and campers streamed away from the coast on Interstate 65 in Alabama, while traffic jams clogged Interstate 10 heading out of New Orleans.

Ida intensified so swiftly that New Orleans officials said there was no time to organise a mandatory evacuation of its 390,000 residents.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents to leave voluntarily. Those who stayed were warned to prepare for long power outages amid sweltering heat.

Officials also stressed that the levee and drainage systems protecting the city had been much improved since Katrina. But they cautioned flooding was still possible with up to 50cm of rain forecast in some areas.

Mr Edwards said 5000 National Guard troops were being staged in 14 Louisiana parishes for search and rescue efforts. And 10,000 linemen were on standby to respond to electrical outages.

Ida posed a threat far beyond New Orleans. A hurricane warning was issued for nearly 320km of Louisiana’s coastline, from Intracoastal City south of Lafayette to the Mississippi state line. A tropical storm warning was extended to the Alabama-Florida line.

Keith Clark brings a friend rope to help tie down a houseboat before he evacuates to Mandeville ahead of Hurricane Ida in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)
Keith Clark brings a friend rope to help tie down a houseboat before he evacuates to Mandeville ahead of Hurricane Ida in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate) (AP)

Meteorologist Jeff Masters, who flew hurricane missions for the government and founded Weather Underground, said Ida was forecast to move through “the just absolute worst place for a hurricane.”

The Interstate 10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is a critical hub of the nation’s petrochemical industry, lined with oil refineries, natural gas terminals and chemical manufacturing plants.

Entergy, Louisiana’s major electricity provider, operates two nuclear power plants along the Mississippi River.

A US Energy Department map of oil and gas infrastructure shows scores of low-lying sites in the storm’s projected path that are listed as potentially vulnerable to flooding.


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