Traffic jams piled up as early as 4am in Louisiana, as residents sought to evacuate before the expected arrival of Hurricane Ida on Sunday, a massively powerful storm the National Weather Service has promised will be “life-altering.”
Highway cameras picked up slowdowns across Interstate 10, the major road leading out of New Orleans.
“Traffic out of New Orleans is HEEEEEEELLL,” Louisiana-based writer Joseph Coco said on Twitter on Saturday morning.
On Friday night, New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the city didn’t have time to be call for mandatory evacuations inside the levee system or open up extra lanes on the highway, known as “contraflow,” to increase the amount of people who could evacuate.
"We are not calling for a mandatory evacuation because the time simply is not on our side. We do not want to have people on the road, and therefore in greater danger,” she said.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall on the Louisiana coast on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, delivering winds of at least 130 mph and “catastrophic damage.” to buildings and infrastructure.
New Orleans, an estimated 70 per cent of homes were damaged in Katrina and numerous died, has assured residents authorities learned their lesson. A shelter location will be available inside the city for those who don’t leave the city but don’t want to stay at home.
The city has also chartered 125 coach buses for post-storm evacuations, a necessary lifeline since the storm is expected to heavily damage electrical infrastructure.
Emergency planners, scarred from Katrina, where more than 1,500 people died, have promised a "a very robust, very quick, post-storm evacuation.”
“That’s the biggest lesson learned, Katrina,” city emergency preparedness director Collin Arnold said on Friday. "That is on everybody’s mind."
Hurricane Ida is expected to be a Category 4 storm, stronger than Katrina when it made landfall, and residents across the state lined up at gas stations on Friday and Saturday, fueling up cars and backup generators. Others used sandbags and plywood to guard property against flood and other damage.
“Today is it,” Jamie Rhome, acting deputy director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, told the AP Saturday. “If you’re in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, you really, really have to get going because today is it in terms of protecting life and property.”
On Friday, the White House approved the state for a pre-landfall emergency declaration, and has promised to send roughly 150 medical personnel and 50 ambulances to the Gulf Coast to assist with hospitals already struggling with a Covid surge. Officials in New Orleans have decided not to evacuate the city’s hospitals, since the rest of the state lacks much capacity to take on new patients at the moment.
Officials also announced they would not be separating vaccinated and unvaccinated people in emergency shelters.
"The prospect of sheltering potentially thousands and thousands of people at the height of the fourth surge is very, very daunting," governor John Bel Edwards said at a press conference on Thursday.
The storm made its first contact with land on Friday afternoon, on Cuba’s southernmost Isle of Youth.
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