Hurricane Ida has hit Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Katrina with a 17 mile-wide eye, 150mph winds and 16 foot storm surges that experts fear could overwhelm levees and other flood defenses.
Ida made landfall in Port Fouchon on the Louisiana coast at 1:02pm EST Sunday, as an ‘extremely dangerous’ category four hurricane. Its windspeed sat just 7mph short of a category five hurricane, with the weather event predicted to be one of the most severe ever to hit the southern state.
The hurricane’s eye is 17 miles in diameter, with the extreme weather event also set to bring flash floods, thunder, lightning, storm surges and tornados to areas in or close to its path.
Nola.com reported that officials are increasingly worried Ida’s foot storm surges could overcome levees – banks of earth, often topped with concrete barriers, built to offer protection from flood waters.
Jefferson Parish, which sits close to New Orleans, is said to be particularly vulnerable to a breach.
This would be the first time the newly-upgraded defenses have been breached since they were strengthened in the wake of Katrina, which struck on August 29 2005 and killed 1,800 people.
On Sunday, longtime NBC weatherman Al Roker, headed straight into the storm, making certain viewers got a firsthand look at the category 4 hurricane and what it was doing along the banks of Louisiana.
Judging from Roker’s report of the storm, things are escalating quickly.
During Sunday’s report, the 67-year-old weatherman was plummeted by waves as the storm surged upwards of 15-16 feet in New Orleans.
On Sunday morning New Orleans – which is set to be hit by the full force of the storm – saw its 911 service go down, with locals urged to call a far longer number instead, although service has since been restored.
The sky is seen darkening over Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana, on Sunday morning as Ida approaches the coast of the state
A foolhardy walker checks out the rough waters caused by Ida in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Sunday
A man was seen checking his phone in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Sunday as Ida began to barrel in, with the storm set to be the worst on record to hit Louisiana
Two women walk past a boarded-up business in New Orleans on Sunday, with locals warned to stay inside until Ida passes
Route 90 in Gulfport, Mississippi, saw roads flooded by Ida, with the Category 4 hurricane set to bring flash floods and storm surges of up to 15 feet
The sky over New Orleans grew dark on Sunday morning, with the city’s I-10 freeway largely deserted as locals prepared for Ida
A satellite photo taken from the International Space Station shows just how large Ida is as it sits off the coast of the US
An astonishing satellite image showed lighting bolts flashing amid Storm Ida as it moved towards the Louisiana coast
Leeville in Louisiana is pictured starting to flood as Ida rolled in on Sunday morning
Hurricane expert Eric Blake tweeted Sunday that the strength of Ida has made him ‘sick to his stomach’
A car sits parked on a levee close to New Orleans, amid fears the flood defenses could be overcome by Hurricane Ida
It is currently around 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, and is expected to make landfall later on Sunday.
In addition, a tornado warning is in effect for southeast Mobile county and Grand Bay in Pointe Coupee Parish, with twisters a common occurrence at the outer edges of hurricanes as the make landfall.
Evacuations have begun amid warnings of storm surges of up to 15 feet, with Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng saying of the predicted inundation: ‘I want to reiterate, the storm surge that we are expecting is unsurvivable.’
How similar is Ida to Katrina?
Hurricane Ida shares some similarities with Hurricane Katrina, but it’s size and might point to a stronger storm
Wind speed: Katrina hit Louisiana as a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds. Ida will hit the city as a Category 4 with slightly higher winds of 130 mph.
Timing: Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. Ida is making landfall on August 29, 2021, exactly 16 years later.
Size: Katrina was a larger storm, which means it was weaker and its damage was more spread out. Ida is smaller, which makes for a stronger storm with more localized damage.
Angle: Katrina hit New Orleans from the south, but Ida is entering from the southeast, which will put New Orleans under the storm’s strongest part – the northeastern quadrant.
Infrastructure: New Orleans’ infrastructure has been updated since Katrina in 2005, when much of the damage was blamed on the levee failures that allowed for extreme flooding. It remains to be seen how they will hold during Ida.
Hurricane expert Eric Blake also tweeted his horror at the weather event, writing: ‘I feel sick to my stomach watching this #hurricane. #Ida ’s eye is clearing out, and the rapid intensification continues. At this point be ready for the one of the strongest to ever make landfall in #Louisiana. This is a very sobering morning… godspeed.’
According to the National Hurricane Center, Ida sustained winds of 150 mph, just 60 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, continuing its way toward Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
It would take merely 7 mph for Ida to transition into Category 5 storm, the NHC said, the strongest category. If Ida does become a cat 5 hurricane, it will be the first on record to have made landfall in Louisiana.
With Hurricane Ida intensifying over the Gulf of Mexico Saturday and barreling towards the Gulf Coast, thousands of fleeing residents clogged highways as they raced inland, and the New Orleans airport cancelled all of Sunday’s inbound and departing flights.
On Sunday morning, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency for Alabama’s coastal & western counties effective at 2:00 p.m.
As of early Sunday morning, Ida was a Category 3 storm with whipping winds of 115 mph. It was about 145 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Hurricane Center.
But it quickly strengthened to a category four, with forecaster Sam Lillo tweeting: ‘Ida is the furthest north hurricane on record in the Atlantic to deepen 50mb (millibars) in 24 hours or less.’ Millibars are units used to record pressure.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said that the storm will be ‘one of the strongest hurricanes to hit anywhere in Louisiana since at least the 1850s.’
It’s predicted to cause heavy downpours and a tidal surge that could plunge most of the Louisiana shoreline under several feet of water.
New Orleans normally bustling Canal Street lay empty Saturday – with a CVS already boarded up
The city’s French Quarter had also begun to disappear behind plywood boards
A local buys plywood at a Home Depot in New Orleans on Saturday in preparation for Hurricane Ida
Canal Street in New Orleans stood deserted on Saturday night as locals prepared for Hurricane Ida to hit the city on Sunday
The city’s famed Bourbon Street looked far quieter than usual, as Ida was forecast to hit on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
Levees strengthened in wake of Katrina could be overcome by Ida
Since Hurricane Katrina, the federal government has spent $14.5 billion on levees, pumps, seawalls, floodgates and drainage that provide enhanced protection from storm surges and flooding in New Orleans and surrounding suburbs south of Lake Pontchartrain.
The system is a 350-mile network of levees, floodwalls, canals, 24 pumping stations and 99 pumps within the city of New Orleans – suburbs have their own pump systems.
Levees are made from compacted soil, whereas floodwalls are erected from man-made materials, usually metal and cement.
The National Hurricane Center forecasts between 10 to 15 feet of floodwaters in the West Bank area, which lies east of the main part of the city (the area is named for its position on the Mississippi River) – the upper range of that estimate would ‘overtop’ most of the southwest-facing levee walls facing the Gulf of Mexico in that area.
The average height of the levee walls facing southwest, according to NOLA.com, is 14 feet.
If forecasted flood levels prove true, floodwaters will rise over levees for the first time since the system was upgraded post-Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, over 50 levees failed throughout New Orleans, leaving 80 percent of the city underwater.
The surge is predicted to weaken as it flows over the marshes and land of southern Jefferson Parish, shrinking in height and intensity as it moved further inland and toward the levees surrounding the communities near the Mississippi River. Exactly how much of an effect that would have, however, is not clear.
‘Armoring,’ a new strategy applied to the levee system since Hurricane Katrina, involves strategically planting grass and laying mats along the inside of the levees – this prevents floodwaters that flow over the walls from eroding soil at the levee’s base, which could cause the structure to collapse.
However, because water has never made it over the retaining walls before, this erosion-prevention system has never been tested in practice.
Southeast Flood Protection Authority – West Region Director Nicholas Calli, whose agency oversees the levees, said to NOLA.com that he was confident that the system would work as designed.
Authorities predict that the rest of the system, lining the Mississippi River to the north of the city of New Orleans, is not expected to be overwhelmed by high water levels.
A surge of storm water, in theory, would be slowed and lowered in height as it flowed over the marshes and land of southern Jefferson Parish, putting the walls protecting the communities near the Mississippi River – it is unclear how much, however.
Water that overtakes the levees would be pumped out by the same water pumps used to divert rainwater that falls within the levee’s walls outside of its perimeter.
Parts of the $2billion of drainage equipment installed since 2005 can pump out as much as 4.7 inches of rainwater each three hours, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Combined, the Corps said, the pumps have a capacity of over 50,000 cubic feet per second (CFS), or 400,000 gallons of water.
Authorities urged residents on Friday to clean leaves and detritus around storm drains to prevent the system from clogging and, therefore, slowing the removal of water.
While some of the pumps were built more recently, according to New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban, some are antiques. Officials tried to bring an electrical turbine online on Friday in an attempt to provide a back-up power source for less reliable pumps.
Three of the 99 pumps are not operation, an obstacle that Korban said will be solved by the ‘redundancy’ of the system and its back-ups.
Just weeks ago, on August 6, the Army Corps of engineers recommended $1.7billion dollars in renovations to the system to ensure that it will work reliably until 2078. Among proposed changes were raising the height of 99 miles of the levees, replacing over a mile of floodwalls and building an additional 3.2 miles of additional flood walls.
‘We’re going to catch it head-on,’ Bebe McElroy told the Associated Press as she prepared to leave home in the coastal Louisiana village of Cocodrie. ‘I’m just going around praying, saying, “Dear Lord, just watch over us.”‘
Ida was poised to strike Louisiana 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. A Category 3 storm, Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths and caused levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans, which took years to recover.
‘We’re not the same state we were 16 years ago,’ Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday, pointing to a federal levee system that’s seen major improvements since Katrina swamped New Orleans in 2005.
‘This system is going to be tested. The people of Louisiana are going to be tested. But we are resilient and tough people. And we’re going to get through this.’
Edwards said 5,000 National Guard troops were being staged in 14 parishes for search and rescue efforts with high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters. And 10,000 linemen were on standby to respond to electrical outages.
Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told CNN during a TV interview at 11pm Saturday that he’s most concerned about how city’s infrastructure will hold up and said the city’s hospitals are already filled because of the COVID-19 surge brought on by the ‘Delta’ variant.
For those who will be weathering the storm were reminded by President Joe Biden not to forego COVID precautions: ‘If you have to move to shelter, make sure you wear a mask and try to keep some distance – we’re still facing the highly contagious delta variant as well.’
New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell urged residents reminded residents during mid-day Saturday press conference that he local COVID surge has city hospitals at full capacity.
She called on those planning to flee from the ‘life-altering’ hurricane to ‘do so immediately’ and for those planning to ride out the storm to finish their preparations and shelter in place as quickly as possible.
‘This is our time, your time, to prepare yourselves now. This is it,’ she said.
‘Check on your neighbors, your friends, of course your family, assist them when needed… in Hurricane Katrina, we learned that we are all first responders.’
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards had a call with Biden on Friday afternoon to synchronize federal and local storm preparation and response plans.
Also on the call was FEMA Administrator Deanna Criswell, Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Rodriguez.
FEMA is pre-positioning food, water, generators and other resources in the at-risk region, the president’s office said Saturday.
‘I know that tomorrow, for many people, is a very difficult anniversary. It is the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I’m also aware that it is very painful to think about another powerful storm like Hurricane Ida making landfall on that anniversary,’ Edwards said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
‘Every storm is different. They all bring their own challenges, but I also want you to know that we’re not the same state we were 16 years ago.’
The Governor said that ‘many, many people are heeding the evacuation orders, both mandatory and voluntary.’
Meanwhile, the president implored local authorities to reach out for federal assistance, should they need it, before the projected hurricane makes landfall.
‘I need to know everything you think we need to do,’ he said at a press conference just before 2 pm. ‘If you haven’t gotten the authority for it, tell me now, we’ll get it done.’
‘Thank you, thank you thank you, everything that you’re doing to prepare for this dangerous storm is going to mitigate the impact and potential…. Disastrous results that will [effect] so many people in the region.’
Terrebonne, Lafourche, Plaquemines, Orleans, St. Charles, Port Fourchon and St. Mary Parish all mandated evacuations for some or all of their residents, and New Orleans employers let their employees go home by 6pm so they have adequate time to seek shelter.
Ida was a tropical depression just two days earlier but it strengthened so quickly that New Orleans officials said there was no time to organize a mandatory evacuation of the city’s 390,000 residents.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city did not have sufficient time to mandate evacuations inside the levee system, or to open up additional lanes of traffic, known as contraflow, to allow more people to evacuate.
An evacuation of that magnitude requires coordination with the state and neighboring locales so that inbound lanes on are highways can be converted to shunt traffic away from the city.
Even without the mandatory evacuation, traffic on Interstate 10 out of New Orleans was heavy or at a standstill throughout the day Saturday. Roads were congested as early as 4 am.
Reports indicate many more heeded the officials’ warnings and vacated the area, but those who chose to hunker down in New Orleans and the surrounding areas along the coast boarded up their homes and businesses and made preparations.
The city’s emergency planners – simultaneously traumatized and prepared for the worst by Hurricane Katrina – have promised a ‘very robust, very quick, post-storm evacuation.’
Inundated with surrendered pets, Louisiana’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is also at full capacity, and will similarly transition to ‘post-storm operations.’
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 70 percent of homes were damaged to some degree, and more than 1,800 people died.
Ten to 15 feet of water is expected to collect around the mouth of the Mississippi River, the National Hurricane Center said, and lower levels of flooding could extend as far east as the coastlines of adjacent Mississippi and Alabama.
Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon West Broome signed an emergency disaster declaration, and said her city had preemptively stationed sand and sandbags at eight strategic locations as the storm approached.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that FEMA will send nearly 150 medical personnel and almost 50 ambulances to the Gulf Coast to assist strained hospitals.
Terrebonne Parish officials also told everyone to evacuate, WWL-TV reported.
‘If you can leave on your own, please leave on your own,’ Parish President Gordon Dove said. ‘We are the bullseye by every indication, of everything we have found.’
Heavy rainfall and flooding have already began to affect Mississippi ahead of Ida’s suspected landfall.
Hailey DeLaune of Gulf told Reuters today that she and her fiancée spent Friday evening amassing provisions and boarding up the windows of his house in Gulfport, Mississippi.
A satellite photo shows Ida over the Caribbean sea, just off the coast of Florida
‘Hurricanes have always been part of my life,’ said Delaune, a high school theology teacher who was born during 1992’s Category 5 Hurricane Andrew. ‘You just run through your list and hope for the best.’
Shelves were seen low on stock at a Walmart on Tchoupitolas in New Orleans, Louisiana ahead of Hurricane Ida on Friday. Breads, meats, snacks, canned meats, cases of water, chips and fans are in short supply.
Shoppers at Costco in New Orleans stocked up on supplies like bottles of water and toilet paper ahead of Hurricane Ida. Lines at gas stations flowed into the streets and an Exxon in New Orleans has already closed its pumps because it is out of gas.
City officials said residents need to be prepared for prolonged power outages, and asked elderly residents to consider evacuating. Arnold said the city could be under high winds for about ten hours.
At Governor Edwards’ request, Biden issued a pre-landfall federal emergency declaration on Friday, which authorized the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to begin coordinating disaster relief efforts.
Locals have begun to evacuate areas of Louisiana in Ida’s path
‘Nobody was out there shrimping today, opening day of shrimp season,’ said George Barisich, a shrimper, to CBS News. ‘So that ought to tell you. When I got in this morning, late last night… about 75, 80 percent of the boats already left.’
Meteorologist Steve Bowen, head of global catastrophe insight at the risk and consulting firm Aon, said the area that was about to get hit is especially vulnerable, with large swaths of industries that could cause environmental damages as well as homes that still have tarps instead of roofs from multiple storms in 2020.
‘It’s not just the coastal impact. It’s not just New Orleans,’ Bowen said. ‘We’re certainly looking at potential losses well into the billions.’
On Friday, Ida smashed into Cuba’s small Isle of Youth, off the southwestern end of the Caribbean island nation, toppling trees and tearing roofs from dwellings.
Jamaica was flooded by heavy rains, and there were landslides after the passage of the storm. Many roads were impassable, forcing some residents to abandon their homes.
Ida, the ninth named storm and fourth hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, may well exceed the strength of Hurricane Laura, the last Category 4 storm to strike Louisiana, by the time it makes landfall, forecasters said.
The region was devastated in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people.
Many roads were impassable, forcing some residents to abandon their homes.
Hurricane Ida was 105 miles west of Havana and traveling northwest at 15MPH by late Friday night.
As the storm plowed into Cuba on Friday night, the National Weather Service issued a slurry of alarming tweets warning that Hurricane Ida shows ‘no signs on weakening.’
‘If Ida maintains a good inner core it will intensify quickly as it enters the Gulf. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THIS! If you are asked to evacuate, LEAVE or you’re putting your life in danger!’ the NWS asserted.
Shelves of a New Orleans Walmart were emptied ahead of the hurricane, set to be one of the worst to ever hit the area
In another tweet, the NWS wrote: ‘The time to act is NOW. Hurricane Ida is now forecast to make landfall as a category 4 hurricane. This will bring SIGNIFICANT impacts to Southern Louisiana and Southern Mississippi. No major changes to the track at this time, moved just a touch to the east.’
‘Along with the change to a Category 4 landfall we also now have upgraded to a Hurricane WARNING for parts of southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi. Damaging winds are expected with Ida and could reach the coast by Saturday night.’
The agency said that a storm surge warning is also now in effect for the likelihood of life-threatening storm surge in some areas of southeaster Louisiana and coastal Mississippi – while a storm surge watch is in effect for the potential of life-threatening storm surge for outer areas.
In its biggest weekly gain this year, oil prices shot up by two percent on Friday.
As the storm tore through the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and Friday, energy companies halted the production of 1.6 million oil barrels and airlifted workers from 90 offshore facilities on Friday and the storm ground through the site of 17 percent of the nation’s oil production.
Production cutbacks have exceeded those spurred on in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, the cataclysmic storm that devastated Louisiana, killed 1,800 and destroyed more than 850,000 homes. Preceding the earlier storm, supplies were cut by 1.53 million barrels per day; Hurricane Delta reduced the supply by 1.69 million each day.