- 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 slammed onto the Louisiana coast Sunday, a Category 4 storm wielding winds of 150 mph, life-threatening storm surge and potentially catastrophic rainfall.
The storm first crashed ashore near Port Fourchon, less than 100 miles south of New Orleans. A short time later it make a second landfall a few miles to the north, near Galliano. By then, power was out to more than 300,000 homes and businesses in the state, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the storm could be the most powerful to pound 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.
Edwards acknowledged Sunday that the state faced a difficult few weeks. But he said levees rebuilt in the wake of Katrina should stand up to the challenge and help minimize the carnage.
“All the models that we’ve seen … show the hurricane storm damage risk reduction system will hold and perform as intended,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “Will it be tested? Yes. But it was built for this moment.”
Don’t miss crucial coverage:Stay updated on the latest news about Hurricane Ida and its aftermath with the Daily Briefing
President Joe Biden, speaking at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Coordination Center in Washington, said the damage is likely to be “immense.” He said resources, equipment and response teams were prepositioned and urged residents to follow the instructions of emergency officials and first responders.
“We are praying for the best and preparing for the worst,” Biden said.
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 also 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 were 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.
“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.”
The winds began whipping through New Orleans on Sunday as the outer edge of Hurricane Ida approached. As the power outages commenced, utility 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 as the storm approached. 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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