“This is going to be much stronger than we usually see and, frankly, if you had to map out the worst possible path for a hurricane in Louisiana, it would be something very, very close to what we’re seeing,” Gov John Bel Edwards told The Associated press.
People in Louisiana woke up to a monster storm after Ida’s top winds increased 45 mph in five hours as the hurricane swept through some of the world’s warmest ocean waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Winds tore at the awnings, water poured from Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans, and boats broke free from their moorings. Engineers have detected a “negative flow” on the Mississippi River due to a storm surge, said Ricky Boyette, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Edwards said he was watching a live video feed from around Port Fourchon when Ida came ashore.
“The storm surge is just huge. We can see that the roofs have been blown off the harbor buildings in many places,” Edwards told the AP.
Officials said Ida’s rapid intensification from a few thunderstorms into a massive hurricane in just three days left no time to organize a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans’ 390,000 residents. Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents who were still in town on Sunday to “squat.”
Marco Apostolico said he was confident to brave the storm at his home in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, one of the city’s worst-hit neighborhoods when levees collapsed, releasing a torrent of floodwater during Katrina.
His house was one of those rebuilt with the help of actor Brad Pitt to withstand hurricane-force winds. But the memory of Katrina still hung over the last storm.
“It’s obviously a lot of heavy feelings,” he said. “And yes, potentially scary and dangerous.”
The region that will get the worst of Ida includes petrochemical sites and major ports, which could suffer significant damage. It is also an area that is already reeling from a resurgence of Covid-19 infections due to low vaccination coverage and the highly contagious delta variant.
New Orleans hospitals planned to brave the storm with their beds nearly full, as hospitals elsewhere under similar stress had little space for evacuated patients. And shelters for people fleeing their homes had an added risk of becoming fires for new infections.
Forecasters warned that winds stronger than 115 mph pose a threat to Houma, a city of 33,000 that supports oil rigs in the Gulf.
The hurricane also threatened neighboring Mississippi, where Katrina destroyed oceanfront homes. As Ida approached, Claudette Jones was evacuating her home east of Gulfport, Mississippi, when the waves began to pound the shore.
“I pray I can go back to a normal home the way I left,” she said. ‘I pray for that. But at the moment I’m not sure.”
Comparisons with the August 29, 2005 landing of Katrina weighed heavily on the residents bracing for Ida. Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths for causing levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans. Ida’s hurricane force stretched 50 miles from the eye of the storm, or about half the size of Katrina, and a New Orleans infrastructure official emphasized that the city is in “a very different place than it was 16 years ago.” “
The dike system is massively overhauled since Katrina, Ramsey Green, deputy chief of administration for infrastructure, said before the worst storm hit. While the water may not penetrate the levees, Green said if predictions of up to 20 inches of rain prove true, the underfunded and neglected network of pumps, underground pipes and surface channels likely won’t be able to keep up.
According to PowerOutage.US, which detects outages nationwide, about 590,000 customers were already without power on Sunday afternoon.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has been in contact with more than 1,500 oil refineries, chemical plants and other sensitive facilities and will respond to reported pollution leaks or oil spills, agency spokesman Greg Langley said. He said the agency would deploy three mobile air monitoring labs after the storm passed to sample, analyze and report any threats to public health.
Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly a fifth of U.S. refining capacity, and its two liquefied natural gas export terminals carry about 55% of the country’s total exports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Government Statistics show that 95% of oil and gas According to energy company S&P Global Platts, production in the Gulf Coast region was halted when Ida made landfall on Sunday.
Louisiana is also home to two nuclear power plants, one near New Orleans and another about 27 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.
President Joe Biden approved the emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi before Ida arrived. He said the country prayed for the best for Louisiana on Sunday and would put its “full strength behind rescue and recovery efforts” once the storm passes.
Edwards warned his state to brace itself for possible weeks of recovery.
“Many, many people will be tested in ways we can only imagine today,” the governor told a news conference.