Hurricane Ida: US Gulf Coast prepares for ‘dangerous’ storm

Storm is expected to make US landfall late on Sunday, bringing heavy downpour, tidal surge and 225kmph winds to region.

Residents fill sandbags before the expected landfall of Hurricane Ida late on Sunday, at the Frederick Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette, Louisiana, US [Matthew Hinton/AP Photo]

Authorities on the Gulf Coast of the United States have issued more dire warnings as Hurricane Ida is expected to bring heavy rains, a tidal surge across much of the Louisiana shoreline and winds of up to 225km per hour (140mph) to the region this weekend.

Forecasters said the storm could make a US landfall on Sunday as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said in an update at 19:00 CDT on Saturday (00:00 GMT on Sunday) that the storm was located about 460 kilometres (285 miles) southeast of Houma, Louisiana, and had maximum sustained winds of 165kmph (105mph).

The hurricane is expected to bring a “life-threatening storm surge, potentially catastrophic wind damage, and flooding rainfall” to the northern Gulf coast beginning on Sunday morning, the NHC said.

“Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it approaches the northern Gulf coast on Sunday,” the agency said earlier in the day, adding that storm preparations should be “rushed to completion”.

“Today is it,” Jamie Rhome, acting deputy director of the NHC, also said on Saturday. “If you’re in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, you really, really have to get going because today is it in terms of protecting life and property.”

Evacuation orders

Authorities have issued a combination of voluntary and mandatory evacuations for cities and communities across the region, including in New Orleans, where a mid-morning advisory told residents that “if you plan to evacuate, do so now”.

Traffic was heavy on westbound routes out of town early on Saturday and most filling stations in New Orleans and its suburbs were out of petrol. The few still open had lines of more than a dozen cars and a wait time of nearly an hour.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Saturday that Ida “is a dangerous storm, and our window to prepare is rapidly closing”.

“We have a very serious situation on our hands,” Edwards said during a briefing. “This will be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit anywhere in the state of Louisiana since at least the 1850s.”

Mike Laurent of Marrero, Louisiana, was filling up about a dozen petrol canisters for his generator and those belonging to friends and family. Laurent said he and his family planned to ride out the storm at home despite concerns about the levee near his home being able to hold. It was reinforced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I don’t think it’s ever been tested like it’s going to be tested tomorrow or Monday,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

“I bought a dozen life jackets, just in case,” he said. “I hope I get to bring them back. I hope I don’t have to use them. But I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

‘Absolute worst place’

The storm is expected to make landfall on the exact date Hurricane Katrina devastated a large swath of the Gulf Coast 16 years ago. But whereas Katrina was a Category 3 when it made landfall southwest of New Orleans, Ida is expected to reach an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane.

Hurricane Ida “is going to do more damage to industries than Katrina did” because the storm’s projected track has it hitting a vital industrial corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, said meteorologist Jeff Masters.

He said Ida is forecast to move through “the just absolute worst place for a hurricane”.

“It is forecast to track over the industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is one of the key infrastructure regions of the US, critical to the economy, there’s hundreds of major industry sites there, I mean petrochemical sites, three of the 15 largest ports in America a nuclear power plant,” Masters told AP.

“You’re probably going to shut down the Mississippi River for barge traffic for multiple weeks. It’s gonna do a lot of damage to the infrastructure there.”

People board up Crescent City Pizza on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, before landfall of Hurricane Ida [Matthew Hinton/AP Photo]

US President Joe Biden held a conference call with the governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, as well as federal emergency response officials, on Friday before the hurricane’s expected landfall.

“They discussed the need for residents in the storm’s path to prepare now for significant impacts given the intensity of the storm and the expected rainfall and storm surge,” the White House said in a statement about the meeting.

Biden on Saturday said 500 federal emergency response workers were in Texas and Louisiana to respond to the storm. Aid workers have “closely coordinated with the electric utilities to restore power as soon as possible”, Biden said at a briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies