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.
Ida has been blamed for at least one death, in Louisiana’s capital city Baton Rouge.
Deputies with the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office responded to a report of someone injured by a fallen tree at a home in Prairieville and confirmed the death, the office said on Sunday.
The victim was not identified.
Tornado threat and life-threatening flooding forecast to continue
The National Weather Service has predicted that the threat for several tornadoes will continue on Monday.
In its latest update, issued at 10pm CDT, the National Hurricane Centre said that “life threatening storm surge inundation will continue through” the night along portions of the coast, while wind damage would continue to occur for several hours near the core of Ida as it continued inland
The hurricane “will continue to produce heavy rainfall tonight through Monday across southeast Louisiana, coastal Mississippi, and southwestern Alabama, resulting in considerable to life-threatening flash and urban flooding and significant riverine flooding impacts”, the centre said.
911 system down in New Orleans
The 911 system in New Orleans is “experiencing technical difficulties”, the city’s emergency communications centre said on Twitter.
People are advised to go to their nearest fire stations or flag an officer for emergency help.
The region currently being battered by Ida is also already reeling from a coronavirus resurgence fuelled by low vaccination rates and the highly contagious Delta variant.
The Associated Press reports that 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.
Meanwhile, shelters for those fleeing their homes carried an added risk of becoming hotspots for new infections.
Ida now a tropical storm
Ida has been downgraded to a tropical storm, after spending 16 hours battering the land as a hurricane.
With the National Hurricane Centre warning that storm surges, dangerous winds and flash flooding will continue over parts of southern Mississippi, The Independent’s video team has this report on the flooding:
What could Ida’s economic toll be?
Ida is sure to take a toll on the energy, chemical and shipping industries that have major hubs along the Gulf Coast, but the impact on the overall US economy should remain modest so long as damage estimates don't rise sharply and refinery shutdowns are not prolonged, economists have suggested.
“The key channel for Ida to impact the broader economy is through energy prices,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We will have to see how much damage occurred to production in the Gulf and how long that production will stay offline.”
Brian Bethune, an economist at Boston College, said a brief jump of up to 20 cents a gallon for petrol was likely – but cautioned that the price increase could be more severe depending on how long the production shutdowns last and whether other regions have alternative supplies.
Outbound American Air and United Airlines flights have been cancelled at Jackson–Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.
They are expected to resume on Tuesday, the airport said.
Mayor describes ‘worst storm surge’ in town’s history
Some 200 people were left stranded last night in Jean Lafitte, a town 20 miles south of New Orleans where levees have been flooded by waters as deep as 12 feet.
Here is the mayor Tim Kerner’s heartbreaking assessment of the situation last night.
“At the height of a hurricane you can't get first responders out because it's just simply too dangerous. The wind speeds don't allow for that,” Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards told CNN on Sunday. “Just as soon as we can, we will be engaged in very robust search and rescue operations.”
The governor had told CNN there were 21 urban search and rescue teams from some 15 states ready to search when the storm allowed.
The rapid speed with which Ida intensified raises questions about how much climate change is affecting hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, The New York Times reports.
With the Atlantic Ocean’s surface temperature helping to drive storm activity, James Kossin, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the paper: “It’s very likely that human-caused climate change contributed to that anomalously warm ocean.
“Climate change is making it more likely for hurricanes to behave in certain ways.”
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