NEW ORLEANS – (AP) – Weather forecasts warned residents along the Louisiana coast to accelerate Saturday preparations in anticipation of a intensifying Hurricane Ida, which is expected to bring winds of up to 225 km / h when it lands on Sunday beats.
Authorities called for a combination of voluntary and compulsory evacuations for cities and towns across the region. In New Orleans, the mayor ordered mandatory evacuation for areas outside the city’s levee system and voluntary evacuation for residents within the levee system. However, as the storm escalated quickly, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said it was not possible to order a mandatory evacuation for the entire city, which would require the use of all lanes of some freeways to get out of the city.
Traffic on the westbound routes out of town was heavy early Saturday and the gas stations were full.
The storm is expected to hit land on the exact day that Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast 16 years earlier. But while Katrina was a Category 3 when it landed southwest of New Orleans, Ida is expected to hit an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane with peak winds of 225 mph before landing likely west of New Orleans late Sunday .
“Today is the day,” said Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the US National Hurricane Center in Miami. “If you are on the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, you really have to get started because today is all about protecting lives and property.”
Ida intensified from a tropical storm to a hurricane with peak winds of 128 km / h as it crossed western Cuba on Friday. It is expected to pick up steam as it travels over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
On Saturday morning, Ida was centered 710 kilometers southeast of New Orleans. It was traveling northwest at 26 km / h, forecasters said. The maximum sustained winds had increased to 85 mph (140 km / h).
In New Orleans, city officials said residents need to be prepared for prolonged blackouts and urged elderly residents to consider evacuation. Collin Arnold, the city’s head of emergency management, said the city could be under high winds for about ten hours. Early Friday, Cantrell called for mandatory evacuation for residents outside the city’s levee protection – a relatively small portion of the city’s population.
Ida would be the latest test for New Orleans’ aging street drainage system. In a statement Friday, the city outlined steps it was taking to make sure the pumps are working and the power sources for those pumps are ready. However, the amount of rain could be enough to overwhelm even a fully functional system.
“We want to make it clear that with the now forecast rainfall of around 10 inches, there is likely to be flooding during the course of the event,” the city said in a statement late Friday.
Some normally busy shops were closed on Saturday. A popular breakfast spot was barred against the door with sandbags to protect itself from flash floods.
As the forward speed of the storm slows and the intensity increases, the storm surge can tower over some levees protecting parts of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi, said Heath Jones, emergency manager for the Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans. However, he said they are designed to tower over and have guards to prevent further damage. There does not appear to be a storm surge hazard over the levees that protect the city’s east bank, which makes up most of the city, he said.
All over the region, residents filled sandbags, procured gasoline for cars and generators, and stocked up on groceries. Captain Ross Eichorn, a fishing guide on the coast about 112 kilometers southwest of New Orleans, said he feared warm Gulf waters would “make a monster” of Ida.
“If you hit the bull’s eye, you can’t say what’s left – if at all,” said Eichorn. He added, “Anyone who isn’t worried has done something wrong.”
A hurricane warning has been issued for most of the Louisiana coast from Intracoastal City to the mouth of the Pearl River. A tropical storm warning has been extended to the Mississippi-Alabama line.
At the same time, hospitals are preparing for the storm, they are still facing a fourth surge in the coronavirus. Officials voted against evacuating New Orleans hospitals. There is little room for their patients elsewhere, with hospitals from Texas to Florida already filled with patients, said Dr. Jennifer Avengo, the city’s health director.
In the state’s largest hospital system, the Ochsner Health System, officials ordered fuel, groceries, medication, and other supplies worth 10 days and signed replacement fuel contracts for its generators. On the positive side, the number of COVID-19 patients had dropped from 988 to 836 in the past week – a 15% decrease.
President Joe Biden approved a federal emergency declaration for Louisiana before the storm. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said FEMA plans to send nearly 150 medical workers and nearly 50 ambulances to the Gulf Coast to aid troubled hospitals.
Ida first met on Cuba’s southern island of youth on Friday afternoon. The Cuban government issued a hurricane warning for its westernmost provinces, where forecasters said up to 50 centimeters of rain could fall in places, potentially triggering deadly flash floods and mudslides. The landing in the US is expected late Sunday in the Mississippi Delta region.
If this prediction is correct, Ida would hit exactly 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina hit land near the river town of Buras with winds of 125 mph (201 km / h).
Katrina is believed to be responsible for an estimated 1,800 deaths from the central Louisiana coast to the Mississippi-Alabama border. A tremendous storm surge combed the coasts and wiped houses off the map. In New Orleans, federal levee failures resulted in catastrophic flooding. Water covered 80% of the city and many houses were flooded except for the roofs. Some victims drowned in their attics. The Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center became scenes of red-hot misery when tens of thousands were stranded without electricity or running water.
In addition, the hurricane center said a new tropical depression formed early Saturday. It was centered 820 miles (1,320 kilometers) east-southeast of the Leeward Islands. It was expected to stay over the open Atlantic and pose no threats to landing.
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