Hurricane Ida quickly grew to a Category 4 storm early Sunday, according to the U.S. Hurricane Center.
Ida “has continued to rapidly intensify,” strengthening to a Category 4 hurricane before it is expected to slam into Louisiana on Sunday afternoon. The storm is moving with maximum sustained winds of 215 kph.
Ida is expected to reach Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm blamed for 1,800 deaths, levee breaches and ruinous flooding in New Orleans. The city’s federal levee system has been improved since the 2005 storm.
"This system is going to be tested," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said.
Edwards declared a state of emergency and said 5,000 National Guard troops were standing by along the coast for search and rescue efforts. In addition, 10,000 linemen were ready to respond to electrical outages once the storm passes.
“By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm,” Edwards said.
A hurricane warning was issued from near Lafayette, Louisiana, to the Mississippi state line, a distance of nearly 320 kilometers. Tropical storm warnings extended to the Alabama-Florida line, and Alabama’s Mobile Bay is under a storm surge watch. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also declared a state of emergency for the state’s coastal and western counties.
"We're going to catch it head-on," Bebe McElroy told the AP as she prepared to leave her home in the coastal Louisiana village of Cocodrie. "I'm just going around praying, saying, 'Dear Lord, just watch over us.'"
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has ordered people who live outside the city’s protective levee system to evacuate.
“The forecast track has it headed straight toward New Orleans. Not good,” said Jim Kossin, a senior scientist with The Climate Service, a private consulting company.
From southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama, total rainfall could be from 20 to more than 40 centimeters, with more than 50 centimeters possible in some areas, the government weather service said. Heavy rain and storm surge could cause widespread flooding in the area.
The region’s hospitals now face a natural disaster as they are struggling with a surge in patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic, due to the highly contagious delta variant.
“COVID has certainly added a challenge to this storm,” Mike Hulefeld, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ochsner Health, told the AP.
Since the start of the pandemic, Louisiana has had 679,796 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12,359 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Its vaccine tracker says just 41.01% of the state’s nearly 4.7 million population are vaccinated.
“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, told the AP.
Ida made landfall Friday in Cuba, and by Saturday the cleanup was under way. Trees were toppled and buildings damaged, but no deaths were reported.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.