Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico as a violent Category 4 hurricane on Sunday, hitting the coast with 150-mph winds, torrential rain and waves that submerged much of the shoreline under several feet of water.
Utilities company Energy Louisiana reported that our disruptions occurred Sunday night in the entire New Orleans metropolitan area with all eight transmission lines that provide electricity to Louisiana’s largest city down.
One of the transmission towers in the Mississippi River has collapsed, according to the Jefferson Parish Division of Emergency Management.
US President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Louisiana, and ordered federal assistance to boost recovery efforts in more than two dozen stricken parishes.
Ida slammed into the beach at noon near Port Fortune, Louisiana, the center of the Gulf’s offshore energy industry, sending hurricane-force winds extending 50 miles (80 km) from the storm’s center. Landfall came 16 years from the day after Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic hurricanes ever, on the Gulf Coast.
On Sunday night, the mayor’s office in Ascension Parish reported the first known death in the United States from the storm – a 60-year-old man who was killed when a tree fell on his home near Baton Rouge, the state capital.
Flash flooding has been reported by the National Hurricane Center across southeastern Louisiana. Nearly all oil production in the Gulf has been suspended, and major ports along the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi have been closed to shipping.
The most vulnerable coastal populations were ordered to evacuate days before Ida. Those riding the storm into their homes in New Orleans, less than 100 miles inland to the north, braced for the toughest test yet of major upgrades to the levee system built in the wake of the devastating 2005 Katrina floods.
“I almost found myself in a panic attack when the news broke that this was the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” Janet Rucker, a lifelong New Orleans resident and recently retired sales manager who has taken refuge in a downtown hotel with her dog Deuce. “It’s not good for our nerves and psyche.”
The storm’s approach has forced the suspension of emergency medical services in New Orleans and elsewhere across a state already reeling from a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections that has strained the Louisiana health care system.
For the estimated 2,450 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide, many of them in intensive care units, evacuation was not an option.
The state health department confirmed to Reuters that a loss of generator power at the Tibodaux Regional Hospital for Health System in Loughborough Parish, southwest New Orleans, forced medical workers to manually assist breathing patients as they were moved to another floor.
Farren Clark, a professor at Nichols State University who studied Katrina’s effect and was riding a storm at his mother’s home in Thibodaux, described Ida’s arrival as “nervous.”
“I can hear the howling of the storm is getting stronger,” he told Reuters by phone. “Having done research on Hurricane Katrina, it’s a bit exciting.”
Michael Lewis, a 45-year-old restaurateur in nearby Houma, said he could see shingles flying off his rooftop and a collapsing fence through his window, but he was unable to verify the full extent of the damage as the storm hit.
“Going out now is very dangerous,” he said in a phone interview.
US Army Corps of Engineers officials said they expect the city’s newly reinforced levees to hold, although they said flood walls may be bypassed in some places.
“This is one of the most powerful storms to make landfall here in modern times,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told a news briefing.
Hundreds of miles of new levees were built around New Orleans after floods from Katrina inundated much of the low-lying city, especially historically black neighborhoods. That brutal storm claimed more than 1,800 lives.
Edwards has expressed confidence in $14.5 billion in dam improvements since then, saying they were “built for this moment.”
Blackouts were widespread in the early hours of the storm, with more than a million Louisiana homes and businesses losing power late Sunday night, according to tracking website Poweroutage.US.
Just three days after emerging as a tropical storm in the Caribbean, Ida intensified into a Category 4 hurricane and smashed into shore with strong winds of 150 mph (240 kph), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported.
With Ida pushed inland to New Orleans over the next 10 hours, its maximum sustained winds shrank to 105 mph, making it a Category 1 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane anemometer, according to the NHC.
Palm trees shivered as rain fell on sideways in New Orleans on Sunday as retiree Robert Ruffin, 68, was evacuated with his family to a downtown hotel.
“I thought it was safer,” he said. “It’s a double problem this time because of COVID.”
Flooding from Storm Ida – high waves driven by the hurricane’s winds – has been reported to exceed expected levels of 6 feet (1.8 meters) along parts of the coast. Videos posted on social media showed that flooding turned parts of Interstate 90 along the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi into a choppy river.
The National Precipitation Commission also warned of potentially catastrophic wind damage and up to 2 feet (61 cm) of rainfall in some areas.
“We are prepared as much as we can, but we are concerned about these dams,” said Kirk Lieben, president of Plaquemines Parish, one of the most vulnerable areas along the Gulf Coast.
The diocese later issued a Facebook alert urging residents of an area to seek higher areas after reports of levees being overrun.
Offshore energy operations in the area were virtually halted. Nearly 300 offshore oil and gas rigs have been evacuated, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said, reducing oil and natural gas production in the Gulf by 96% and 94%, respectively.
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