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A man takes pictures of high waves along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain as Hurricane Ida nears
The Category 4 storm has made landfall in Louisiana as the state grapples with a COVID-19 surgeImage: Gerald Herbert/AP Photo/picture alliance
CatastropheUnited States of America

Hurricane Ida makes landfall in Louisiana

August 29, 2021

Hurricane Ida hit the US coast after escalating into a Category 4 storm. Residents and officials are now facing what Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has warned could be the worst storm since the 1850s.

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Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana around noon local time on Sunday, the US National Hurricane Center said.

The landfall arrived on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated  Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.

Weather officials said Ida escalated in the early hours of Sunday, becoming an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm. Its top winds reached 150 mph (230 kph) as it moved through some of the warmest ocean water in the world in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged the city's 390,000 residents to evacuate, stating: "Time is not on our side."

Hurricane Ida heads for Louisiana

Addressing reporters after the storm made landfall, Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards moved to assure the public that the state's anti-flood defenses would hold.

"There is no doubt that upcoming days and weeks are going to be very, very difficult for our state… but I can also say that as a state we have never been more prepared," the governor said.

He also said over 1,500 people were sheltered across the state of Louisiana.

Hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients

Hospitals are preparing to ride out the storm due to a lack of hospital beds because of a surge in COVID-19 cases attributable to the delta variant. Officials also expressed concerns that shelters could become hotbeds of infection if residents did not wear face masks.

With the COVID surge straining local public health systems, shelters will also not operate at full capacity. 

"Once again we find ourselves dealing with a natural disaster in the midst of a pandemic,'' said Jennifer Avegno, the top health official for New Orleans.

Vehicles drive through storm floodwaters in Biloxi, Mississippi
Mississippi is also affected by the category 4 stormImage: Justin Mitchell/The Sun Herald/AP Photo/picture alliance

Earlier, Edwards said more than 2,400 COVID-19 patients are in Louisiana hospitals.

"We're in a very dangerous place with our hospitals," Edwards told The Associated Press, adding that evacuating the largest hospitals was not an option

"There aren't hospitals with the capacity to take them," Edwards said. "And so making sure that they can maintain power and water, have access to all the things that they need and oxygen and other things is going to really consume a lot of our time and attention
because we know that the lights could be out, power could be out for weeks.''

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the largest privately owned crude terminal in the country, suspended deliveries ahead of the storm.

Worst hurricane since the 1850s

Governor Bel Edwards warned the storm was set to be the worst to hit the state in 160 years.

While levees have been strengthened since Katrina hit the southern US in August 2005, flooding is still possible with up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain forecast in some areas.

In addition to preparing hospitals and shelters, 5,000 National Guard troops have been called up and are preparing in 14 Louisiana parishes for search and rescue operations. As widespread power outages are anticipated, 10,000 electrical linemen are on standby to respond.

Delta variant spreads through Louisiana

Currently, Louisiana has the third-highest incidence of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the US over the last seven days due in large measure to the delta variant

"We have been talking to hospitals to make sure that their generators are working, that they have way more water on hand than normal, that they have PPE on hand," said Edwards, adding however that Louisiana's "resilient and tough people'' could weather the storm as they had Katrina 16 years ago.

Barbara Casterlin, a shelter manager, told The Associated Press that workers were required to wear face masks while evacuees were encouraged to do the same. Anyone who refuses masks will be sent to an isolated area along with people who are sick, she said.

Former vaccination skeptics voice regret in US

"We're not checking vaccinations, but we are doing temperature checks two or three times a day," Casterlin said.

Powering down before the storm hits

The US Department of Energy map of oil and gas infrastructure shows plenty of low-lying sites in Ida's projected path that could be potentially vulnerable to flooding.

In preparation for Ida, US energy companies have reduced offshore oil production by 91%, and gasoline refiners have cut operations at Louisiana plants in the path of the storm.

Traffic jam on a road leading out of the greater New Orleans area Saturday
There was bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 10 out of New Orleans on SaturdayImage: Matthew Hinton/AP/picture alliance

Traffic snaked as a line of backed-up cars got stuck in traffic along Interstate 10 heading out of New Orleans on Saturday. The route to Baton Rouge is a critical hub of America's petrochemical industry, crowded with oil refineries, natural gas terminals and chemical manufacturing plants.

Regional fuel prices have already increased with cuts to production and the increased demand resulting from widespread evacuations.

Locals prepare for devastation

Meteorologist Jeff Masters who flew hurricane missions for the government and founded Weather Underground told AP that Ida is forecast to move through "the just absolute worst place for a hurricane.''

In New Orleans, local watchmaker Eric Suriano told the AFP news agency that Hurricane Katrina "was the nightmare of my life."

"Everybody is scared because it's the anniversary of Katrina and people didn't take it seriously at the time," said his son, Austin, as they boarded up Eric's watch repair shop.

Residents in New Orleans boarding up shops with plywood before Hurricane Ida strikes
The storm hits amid a surge of COVID-19 casesImage: Marco Bello/REUTERS

In Gulfport, Mississippi, at the edge of where Ida was expected to make landfall, Alex and Angela Bennett of Saucier, Mississippi spent Saturday filling up sandbags to put around their home.

"Katrina was terrible. This ain't gonna be nothing," said Alex.

"I hate it for Louisiana, but I'm happy for us," he added.

mvb, jsi, ar/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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