Hurricane Ida burned from the Louisiana coast towards New Orleans and one of the main industrial corridors in the country on Sunday, one of the strongest storms to hit the US.
The category 4 storm, with winds of 230 km / h, struck Hurricane Katrina 16 years earlier, ravaging Louisiana and Mississippi, and came ashore about 45 miles west of where Katrina first landed.
The rising ocean flooded the offshore island of Grand Isle when Port Fourchon met the mainland in the west. Ida hit land for the second time near Galliano about two hours later. The hurricane hit the far southern Louisiana wetlands, and the more than 2 million people who lived in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge were next.
“It’s not the kind of storm we usually get. This is going to be a lot stronger than we normally see and, frankly, if you had to design the worst possible path for a hurricane in Louisiana it would be very, very close to what we are seeing, ”Gov said. John Bel Edwards told The Associated Press.
People of Louisiana woke to a monster storm after Ida’s peak winds increased 45 mph in five hours as the hurricane hit some of the warmest ocean waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Wind tore at awnings and water ran out of Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans before noon on Sunday. Officials said Ida’s rapid increase from a few thunderstorms to a massive hurricane in just three days left no time to organize a mandatory evacuation of the city’s 390,000 residents. Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents to volunteer. Those who stayed were warned to prepare for long blackouts in the sweltering heat.
“That’s the time. Heed all warnings. Make sure you have protection in place. You crouch down,” Cantrell said at a press conference.
Nick Mosca, who was walking his dog on Sunday morning before the storm, said he would have liked to have been better prepared. “But this storm came pretty quickly, so you only have the time you have,” said Mosca.
Ida’s winds at 150 miles per hour made it the fifth strongest hurricane to ever hit the US mainland
These winds whipped through Port Fourchon, where boats and helicopters gather to take workers and supplies to offshore oil rigs and the extracted oil begins its journey to the refineries. The port processes about a fifth of the country’s indigenous oil and gas, officials said.
Edwards said he saw a live video feed from the port area when Ida came ashore.
“The storm surge is simply gigantic. We can see that in many places the roofs of the harbor buildings have been blown up, ”Edwards told the AP.
Together with the oil industry, Ida threatened a region that is already affected by a resurgence of COVID-19 infections due to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious Delta variant.
New Orleans hospitals planned to weather the storm with beds almost full, as similarly stressed hospitals elsewhere had little room for evacuated patients. And shelter for those fleeing their homes carries an additional risk of becoming hotspots for new infections.
Forecasters warned that in Houma, a town of 33,000 that supports oil rigs in the Gulf, winds in excess of 115 miles per hour (185 km / h) were expected.
Gulfport, Mississippi, east of New Orleans, saw the ocean rise and heavy rains. Empty lots that once stood houses in front of Katrina are still common on the Mississippi coast, and Claudette Jones evacuated her home east of Gulfport when the waves hit the shore.
“I pray that I can return to a normal home as I left it,” she said. “I pray for that. But I’m not sure at the moment. “
Comparisons with the Katrina landing on August 29, 2005 weighed heavily on residents preparing for Ida. Katrina has been blamed for 1,800 deaths from causing levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans and demolishing oceanfront homes in Mississippi. Ida’s hurricane winds stretched 50 miles from the Eye of the Storm, or about half the size of Katrina.
Ramsey Green, who is responsible for the infrastructure of New Orleans, emphasized before the worst of the storm that the city was in a “very different place to protect against storm surges than 16 years ago”.
No water is allowed to penetrate the dyke system, which has been massively overhauled since Katrina. But if predictions of up to 50 centimeters of rain come true, the city’s underfunded and neglected network of pumps, underground pipes and surface canals is unlikely to keep up, Green said.
“It’s an incredibly fragile system,” he said.
According to PowerOutage.US, which tracks outages across the country, around 350,000 customers were already without power on Sunday afternoon.
The region suffering worst for Ida could face devastation to its infrastructure, which includes petrochemical sites and large ports, said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane-hunter-meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and founder of Weather Underground.
The state’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly a fifth of US refining capacity, and its two liquefied natural gas export terminals account for about 55% of the country’s total exports, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Louisiana is also home to two nuclear power plants, one near New Orleans and another about 27 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.
The Interstate 10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is a major hub for the country’s petrochemical industry, lined with oil refineries, natural gas terminals, and chemical plants. Entergy, Louisiana’s largest electricity company, operates two nuclear power plants along the Mississippi River.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has been in contact with more than 1,500 oil refineries, chemical plants and other sensitive facilities and will respond to any reported pollution leaks or oil spills, agency spokesman Greg Langley said. He said the agency will deploy three mobile air surveillance laboratories after the storm passes to sample, analyze and report public health threats.
President Joe Biden approved emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi prior to Ida’s arrival. He said the country will pray for the best for Louisiana on Sunday and prepare for the worst.
“As soon as the storm is over, we will use the full force of the land to rescue and recover,” said Biden.
Edwards warned his condition that they would have difficult days, if not weeks, to recover from the storm.
“Many, many people are being tested in ways that we can only imagine today. But I can also tell you that we as a state have never been better prepared, ”said the governor at a press conference.
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Reeves answered it from Gulfport, Mississippi. Associate Press Writer Rebecca Santana, Stacey Plaisance, and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Frank Bajak in Boston; Michael Biesecker in Washington; Pamela Sampson in Atlanta; and Jeffrey Collins of Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.