Hurricane Ida has made landfall in the US state of Louisiana after its rapid approach of the United States Gulf Coast prompted local officials to urge residents to take cover and open emergency shelters for evacuees.
The storm made landfall as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said at 11:55am CDT (16:55 GMT) on Sunday.
It brought maximum sustained winds of 241 kilometres per hour (150mph) to the southern US region, which for days had been bracing for the hurricane to hit.
Ida is causing a “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding in portions of Louisiana” and was expected to remain a hurricane through late Sunday night, the Miami-based NHC said in a later update, as the storm moves towards New Orleans and a key industrial corridor.
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 29, 2021
Rain gusted through New Orleans on Sunday morning, where retired 68-year-old Robert Ruffin had evacuated with his family to a downtown hotel from their home in the city’s east. “I thought it was safer,” Ruffin told the Reuters news agency. “It’s double trouble this time because of COVID.”
A day earlier, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards had warned that Hurricane Ida could be the state’s worst direct hit by a hurricane since the 1850s. “This is not the kind of storm that we normally get,” Edwards told The Associated Press.
“This is going to be much stronger than we usually see and, quite frankly, 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.”
The governor also told CNN that he believed the state’s levees would be able to withstand the storm surge, though he expressed some doubt about parishes in the south. “Where we’re less confident is further south where you have other protection systems that are not built to that same standard,” he said.
Before the storm made landfall, Louisiana State Police tweeted that “conditions are quickly deteriorating” and urged residents to take cover. “If you have not evacuated and are in the affected area along the southeast and south central gulf coast, please seek shelter immediately,” it said.
‘Unpredictable and incredibly powerful’
In New Orleans, where the worst weather is expected later in the day, light rain fell. Cars were parked on the median, which locals call neutral ground because it is a few feet higher and can protect against potential flooding.
Ida intensified so swiftly that city officials said there was no time to organise a mandatory evacuation of its 390,000 residents. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents to leave voluntarily. Those who stayed were warned to prepare for long power outages amid sweltering heat.
Resident Nick Mosca was walking his dog, like most of those who were out on Sunday.
“I’d like to be better prepared. There’s a few things I’m thinking we could have done. But this storm came pretty quick, so you only have the time you have,” Mosca said.
The storm made landfall on the exact date Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi 16 years ago. While the two hurricanes are similar, they have key differences – namely in size and direction.
Al Jazeera’s Phil Lavelle, reporting from New Orleans, said it was very unlikely that Hurricane Ida would increase in strength after it made landfall. But there are serious fears the storm will not only bring strong winds and flooding to the area, but could affect critical infrastructure, as well.
Dozens of oil refineries are located in the path of the storm, Lavelle explained, among other important sites. “You don’t know what’s going to happen; this is unpredictable and it is incredibly powerful,” he said.
US President Joe Biden on Sunday visited the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington for a briefing about Hurricane Ida, the White House said.
Biden during the weekend approved emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi, a move that allows federal assistance to be sent to those states.
Hurricane Ida is threatening a part of the US already reeling from a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, due to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious Delta variant.
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. Shelters for those fleeing their homes carried an added risk of becoming flashpoints for new infections.
Sharon Weston Broome, the mayor of Baton Rouge, said on Sunday that staff and evacuees at shelters would be required to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.
“Masks will help ensure the safety of our workforce and those we serve during disasters. Our goal is to keep everyone safe from the hurricane and COVID-19,” she tweeted.
The Red Cross will require staff and residents to wear face coverings inside shelters — regardless of vaccination status.
Masks will help ensure the safety of our workforce and those we serve during disasters.
Our goal is to keep everyone safe from the hurricane and COVID-19.
— Sharon Weston Broome (@MayorBroome) August 29, 2021