Hurricane Ida, the fifth-strongest to ever hit the mainland United States, has finally been downgraded to a tropical storm after spending 16 hours churning across Louisiana in what Joe Biden declared a “major disaster”.
Two people were confirmed dead in the storm’s aftermath, with the death toll expected to rise “considerably”.
Intensifying faster than experts had predicted, the weather system blasted into New Orleans exactly 16 years to the day after the devastating Hurricane Katrina, where it knocked power out across the city, tore off roofs and even reversed the flow of the Mississippi River.
Residents of the Gulf Coast evacuated their homes and businesses were shut down as much of the Louisiana coastline was plunged underwater. The hurricane claimed at least one life, after a tree fell onto a residential property in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana’s governor John Bel Edwards lamented that, “if you had to draw up the worst possible path for a hurricane in Louisiana, it would be something very, very close to what we’re seeing”, warning residents of his state to brace for potentially weeks of recovery.
It was declared a tropical storm on Monday by the National Hurricane Centre, which warned that dangerous storm surges, damaging winds, and flash flooding would continue over portions of southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi.
Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of Hurricane Ida, which is due to make landfall on Sunday.
Ida set to make landfall on Sunday
Category 4 Hurricane Ida is set to make landfall on Sunday, bringing strong winds and heavy rain with the threat of flooding.
By early Sunday Ida was located about 75 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, carrying top sustained winds of 140 mph.
Ida could inflict a life-threatening storm surge, potentially catastrophic wind damage and flooding rainfall, the National Hurricane Center said.
Satellite images show storm's path
Ida feared to be worst direct hit hurricane since 1850s
John Bel Edwards, Louisiana’s governor, said on Saturday that the storm could be the state’s worst direct hit by a hurricane since the 1850s.
Southern Louisiana is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Laura from a year ago. The state was also devastated 16 years ago this week by Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people.
But Louisiana is not planning to evacuate hospitals now strained by an influx of Covid-19 patients, Mr Edwards said.
“The implications of having a Category 4 storm while hospitals are full are beyond what we normally contemplate,” Edwards said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
Officials ordered widespread evacuations of low-lying and coastal areas, jamming highways and leading some gasoline stations to run dry as residents and vacationers fled the seashore.
“This is a powerful and dangerous storm - it is moving faster than we had thought it would be, so we have a little less time to prepare,” said Dr Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s chief medical official. “There is a lot of Covid out there - there are a lot of risks out there.”
Winds strengthen to 150mph, says hurricane center
The US National Hurricane Center has warned that wind speeds are increasing as the storm nears land.
In a release published within the last hour, the agency said: “Reports from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 150 mph (240 km/h) with higher gusts.” Sustained wind speeds had been given as 140mph until now.
A sustained wind of 82 mph and a gust to 107 mph were also reported at one of the agency’s stations at Pilot’s Station East near Southwest Pass, Louisiana.
Ida landfall expected around lunchtime
Thousands flee approaching storm
Homes and businesses board up as streets empty
Power cuts expected as storm sweeps through
Utilities companies are bringing in extra crews and equipment to deal with expected power losses from the storm.
Joe Biden said he has coordinated with electric utilities and 500 federal emergency response workers were in Texas and Louisiana to respond to Ida.
US energy companies have reduced offshore oil production by 91 per cent and gasoline refiners cut operations at Louisiana plants in the path of the storm. Regional fuel prices have risen in anticipation of production losses and on increased demand due to evacuations.
Coastal and inland oil refineries have also cut production due to the storm. Phillips 66 shut its Alliance plant on the coast in Belle Chasse, while Exxon Mobil Corp cut production at its Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refinery on Saturday.
Ida draws comparisons with Katrina
Comparisons to the 29 August 2005 landfall of Hurricane Katrina have been weighing heavily on residents bracing for Ida.
A Category 3 storm, Katrina was blamed for 1,800 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 did not 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.”
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