Hurricane Ida hit the coast Sunday as one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the U.S., knocking out all of New Orleans, blowing up roofs on buildings, and reversing the flow of the Mississippi River as it plunged. from the Louisiana coast to one of the most important industrial corridors in the country.
The hurricane was blamed for at least one death – a person found dead following a report of a downed tree at a home in Prairieville, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook. The person, who was not identified, was pronounced dead. Prairieville is a suburb of Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana.
The power outage in New Orleans increased the city’s vulnerability to flooding and left hundreds of thousands of people without air conditioning or refrigeration in the sweltering summer heat.
Ida, a Category 4 storm, struck on the same date Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi 16 years earlier, making landfall about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of where Category 3 Katrina first made landfall. Ida’s 150 mph (230 kph) winds tied it for the fifth strongest hurricane to ever hit the continental U.S. It plunged hours later into a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 95 mph (155 kph). as he crawled inland, his eyes set 45 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of New Orleans.
Significant flooding was reported Sunday night in LaPlace, a community adjacent to Lake Pontchartrain, forecasters in New Orleans said. Many people took to social media to call for boat rescues as the water rose.
The rising ocean flooded the barrier island of Grand Isle when it made landfall just to the west at Port Fourchon. Ida made landfall for the second time about two hours later near Galliano. The hurricane hit the wetlands of the southern tip of Louisiana, with more than 2 million people living in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge under threat.
“This is going to be much stronger than what we usually see and, frankly, if I were to chart the worst possible path for a hurricane in Louisiana, it would be something very, very much like what we are seeing,” the governor said. John Bel Edwards told The Associated Press.
People in Louisiana woke up to a monstrous storm after Ida’s peak winds increased by 45 mph (72 kph) in five hours as the hurricane moved through some of the warmest ocean waters in the world in the north of the Gulf of Mexico.
The entire city of New Orleans was without power Sunday night, according to city officials. The city’s power provider Entergy confirmed that the only power in the city came from generators, the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said on Twitter. The message included a screenshot that cited “catastrophic transmission damage” from the power outage.
The city relies on Entergy for backup power for the pumps that remove rainwater from city streets. Rain from Ida is expected to test that pump system.
More than 1 million customers were without power in Louisiana, and more than 40,000 were in the dark in Mississippi, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks outages across the country.
In New Orleans, the wind blew away awnings and caused buildings to sway and water to spill out of Lake Ponchartrain. The Coast Guard office in New Orleans received more than a dozen reports of separatist barges, Chief Warrant Officer Gabriel Wisdom said. In Lafitte, about 35 miles (55 km) south of New Orleans, a loose barge struck a bridge, according to Jefferson Parish officials.
US Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ricky Boyette said engineers detected “negative flow” in the Mississippi River as a result of the storm surge. And Edwards said he saw a live video feed from around Port Fourchon when Ida reached shore that showed roofs had been blown off by buildings in “many places.”
“The storm surge is tremendous,” Edwards told the AP.
Authorities said Ida’s rapid escalation from a few thunderstorms to a massive hurricane in just three days left no time to organize a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans’ 390,000 residents. Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents who remain in the city Sunday to “take shelter.”
Marco Apostolico said he felt safe weathering the storm at his home in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, one of the city’s worst-hit neighborhoods when levees failed and released a torrent of floodwater during Katrina.
His house was one of those rebuilt with the help of actor Brad Pitt to withstand hurricane-force winds. But the memory of Katrina still hung over the last storm.
“Obviously it’s a lot of heavy feelings,” he said. “And yes, potentially terrifying and dangerous.”
Ida’s worst-hitting region includes major petrochemical sites and ports, which could suffer major damage. It is also an area that is already recovering from the 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 their beds nearly full, as similarly stressed hospitals elsewhere had little room for evacuated patients. And shelters for those fleeing their homes carried an additional risk of becoming hotbeds of inflammation for new infections.
Forecasters warned that winds of more than 115 mph (185 kph) were threatening Houma, a city of 33,000 that is home to oil rigs in the Gulf.
The hurricane also threatened neighboring Mississippi, where Katrina demolished waterfront homes. With Ida closing in, Claudette Jones evacuated her home east of Gulfport, Mississippi, when the waves began to hit the shoreline.
“I pray that I can go back to a normal home as I left it,” she said. “That’s what I’m praying for. But I’m not sure at this point.”
Comparisons to Katrina’s landfall on August 29, 2005, weighed heavily on residents preparing for Ida. Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths as it caused levee ruptures and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans. Hurricane-force winds from Ida were extending 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the eye of the storm, or about half the size of Katrina, and a New Orleans infrastructure official stressed that the city is in a “very different from 16 years ago. ”
The levee system has been massively overhauled since Katrina, said Ramsey Green, deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure, before the worst of the storm hit. While the water may not penetrate the levees, Green said that if forecasts of up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain turn out to be true, the network of pumps, underground pipes, and surface canals neglected and well-funded. The insufficient city cannot keep up.
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 oil spills or pollution releases, agency spokesman Greg Langley said. He said the agency would deploy three mobile air monitoring labs after the storm passes to sample, analyze and report any threats to public health.
Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly a fifth of U.S. refining capacity, and its two liquefied natural gas export terminals ship about 55% of the nation’s total exports, according to the Information Administration. Government statistics show that 95% of oil and gas production in the Gulf Coast region was shut down when Ida made landfall on Sunday, according to energy company S&P Global Platts.