- A tornado watch was issued for parts of Louisiana, including New Orleans.
- Storm preparations were complicated by the pandemic.
- The storm made landfall 16 years to the day Katrina delivered its devastating blow.
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NEW ORLEANS – Powerful Hurricane Ida made landfall Sunday on the southeastern Louisiana coast, a Category 4 storm driving winds of 150 mph and fears of life-threatening storm surge, potentially catastrophic wind damage and flooding rainfall.
The storm crashed ashore near Port Fourchon, less than 100 miles south of New Orleans. A few hours later, power was out to almost 300,000 homes and businesses in the region, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us.
“I’m speechless,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Benjamin Schott said shortly before landfall. “I’m sick to my stomach. It’s going to be a horrible day. All of the worst things we thought the storm could do I think are about to happen.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said the storm could be the most powerful to slam across the state in more than 160 years. Hurricane Katrina, which flooded most of New Orleans, killing almost 2,000 people and causing damages estimated at $125 billion, made landfall 16 years ago to the day – as a Category 3 storm.
“This is a sight no one wants to see on satellite,” the weather service tweeted as Ida advanced, calling the storm a “serious, life-threatening situation.”
Don’t miss crucial coverage:Stay updated on the latest news about Hurricane Ida and its aftermath with the Daily Briefing
Ida was forecast to move well inland over portions of Louisiana and western Mississippi on Monday and Monday night. The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for parts of Louisiana, including New Orleans, as well as parts of Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. Flooding was already underway in parts of Mississippi on Sunday morning.
New Orleans officials urged residents who did not evacuate to remain sheltered until the city can assess damage, likely Monday morning.
“Be calm in this midst of this storm,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. “You have everything you need. We will get through this together.”
City officials expressed confidence in the flood protection system, which underwent a $14 billion upgrade after failing during Katrina. Hurricane Ida could dump up to 20 inches of rain on the city, Deputy City Administrator Officer Ramsey Green said.
Residents are asked to conserve water because of an electrical outage affecting the sewer system. Entergy New Orleans said it had provided extra generators and is working to find the cause of the outage. The outage did not affect the pumping system that clears the city of floodwaters, Green said.
Still, “it’s an incredibly fragile system. That system can change at any point,” Green warned.
Ida intensified so swiftly that Cantrell had said last week that there was no time to organize a mandatory evacuation. She had, however, urged the city’s 390,000 residents to leave voluntarily and warned those who stayed to prepare for long power outages.
Ida, moving over the extremely warm waters of the Gulf, saw its top winds grow by 45 mph in five hours. The phenomenon, known as “rapid intensification,” is typically defined to be a tropical cyclone intensifying by at least 35 mph in a 24-hour period, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach. That can happen when a storm encounters an extremely conducive environment such as very warm water, low vertical wind shear and high levels of mid-level moisture.
The winds began whipping through the city Sunday as the outer edge of Hurricane Ida approached. Power outages emerged, and the power company Entergy said 16,000 crew members were ready to assess damages and restore power when conditions allowed.
“Conditions will be extremely hazardous,” the city Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness tweeted. “Power lines may fall and debris could become projectiles. Get inside and stay inside.”
Residents were heeding the warnings. Aside from the gusting wind, the scene was eerily quiet on the city’s empty streets. During lesser storms, cars park atop curbs or pack onto grassy medians that divide many of the roads. But ahead of Ida, few cars could be seen, a sign that many local had fled ahead of the storm.
A few miles northeast of Port Fourchon, Grand Isle Police Chief Scooter Resweber said the roof of the police station was imperiled on the barrier island.
“We’re still in the middle of this thing.” Resweber said. “The lower floor and all of the police cars are flooded.”
In Terrebonne Parish, 50 miles southwest of New Orleans, Sheriff Tim Soignet said at least 60%-70% of residents had evacuated. The Terrebonne Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness posted on its Facebook page that, because of dangerously high winds, emergency medical services were no longer operating there.
“Please remain indoors and away from windows,” the post said. “Stay safe Terrebonne!”
The nonprofit Cajun Navy Foundation is planning to send its Cajun Navy Ground Force to Houma, La., in Terrebonne Parish, on Monday once the situation is safe, foundation founder Rob Gaudet said.
He estimated that more than 100 volunteers will descend to the area to help with cleanup and other related efforts.
“We feel an even greater sense of urgency to be prepared,” Gaudet said. “And we went, actually last night, and purchased about three more chainsaws and kits.”
Volunteers Jay Carter, of Georgia said his son texted him while he was on his way to Louisiana. His son didn’t want Carter to leave.
“I basically told him that we all do this because one day if you’re ever in trouble, our kids, ourselves, then hopefully someone like Cajun Navy will come along help us as well,” Carter said.
More than 2,000 FEMA emergency personnel were deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, including seven FEMA Incident Management Assistance Teams in Louisiana and Mississippi, the agency said.
Storm preparations were complicated by the pandemic. Louisiana has been overwhelmed with cases, and most hospitals were preparing to continue operating through the storm. Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest hospital system, equipped its hospitals with power generators and boilers to ensure the availability of hot water and power.
Edwards said shelters would operate with reduced capacities to reflect the “realities of COVID.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection agencies said they would not conduct immigration enforcement at locations where disaster and emergency relief related was being provided.
On Saturday, more than 90% of the Gulf of Mexico’s oil production was shut down as Ida churned through the western Gulf of Mexico. About 85% of the Gulf’s natural gas production had also been halted, according to the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Workers had been evacuated from at least half of the 560 production platforms in the Gulf, according to the bureau.
Five named systems have reached the U.S. this year, but Ida was poised to be the first to make landfall at hurricane strength.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: Susan Miller and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; William Potter, The (Lafayette, La.) Daily Advertiser; Emily Enfinger, Keith Magill and Kezia Setyawan, The (Houma, La.) Courier; Greg Hilburn, the (Monroe, La.) News Star
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