Fri, September 24, 2021

international

Ida makes landfall as Category 4 near Port Fourchon, Louisiana


On the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrinas assault on New Orleans, Category 4 Ida slammed into the southeast Louisiana coastline after rapidly gaining strength Saturday night. The powerhouse storm, packing winds of 150 mph, is forecast to wallop New Orleans with hurricane-force winds and over a foot of rain Sunday afternoon and evening.

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Near where Ida comes ashore, the National Hurricane Center is predicting "potentially catastrophic" wind damage and an "extremely life-threatening" ocean surge. Devastating effects from destructive winds and flooding rain could extend more than a hundred miles inland.

Hours before landfall, NOAA and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew into Hurricane Ida, data helped the National Hurricane Center determine that Ida's hurricane-force winds extended up to 50 miles from the center, with tropical-storm-force winds up to 150 miles away.

Ida made landfall at 12:55 p.m. and is moving northwest at about 13 mph. The hurricane is projected to turn north by Monday morning as it loses strength over land but produces extremely heavy rainfall.

Tracking by PowerOutage.us showed that nearly 315,000 customers in Louisiana had lost power, with about 100,000 losing service in just the past hour. The outages were concentrated in the southeastern part of the state, near where Ida made landfall.

Sustained winds of 40 mph, gusting to 59, have been reported at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

In the areas hit hardest by outages, a majority of customers were without power. Plaquemines Parish was worst, with the power out for nearly 85% of tracked customers, followed by Terrebonne Parish, where 76% were without power.

Grand Isle, La., located immediately to the east of where Ida's eye came ashore, has been hammered by the storm's most intense winds and an unforgiving ocean surge.

A Davis weather station clocked a wind gust of 146 mph; this is not an official reading but is plausible considering the intensity of the storm and Grand Isle's location. The Grand Isle police chief told the Weather Channel he clocked a 148-mph gust.

A weather station at Southwest Pass, La., located in the most southeastern part of the state, recorded a gust of 128 mph earlier Sunday.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's leading infectious-disease expert, said Sunday that he worried Hurricane Ida could worsen the already dire coronavirus situation in Southern states.

"You're having two potential or real catastrophes conflating on each other," Fauci said during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."

Fauci described the coronavirus situation in Louisiana as "bad enough," though he said Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) was "doing a very good job in trying to keep things under control."

Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Louisiana hit their highest levels of the pandemic this month, with the state becoming an epicenter amid the surge fueled by the delta variant. Average new daily cases are declining after exceeding 5,000 the week of Aug. 12, but they remain above 4,000, according to Washington Post tracking.

Hospitals remain strained, with a seven-day average of nearly 2,500 inpatients. Edwards told the Associated Press that officials would consider evacuating hospitals in affected areas under normal circumstances. But doing so "isn't possible" with beds full of covid patients, he said, noting: "We don't have any place to bring those patients."

Fauci said the hurricane threatened to make a bad situation worse.

"We're having a situation where, even when you're stressed to the limit, to superimpose upon it what will likely be a historic weather, environmental catastrophe is going to do nothing but make things much, much worse," he said.

In Gulfport, Mississippians woke up to tornado warnings in Hancock County and rain bands moving across the Gulf Coast on Sunday morning. Highway 90 was quickly inundated by a storm surge, and some neighborhoods are dealing with water in low-lying areas, but most are faring well as Hurricane Ida comes ashore in Louisiana.

Harrison County, which includes the cities of Biloxi and Gulfport, initiated a curfew at 8 a.m. Sunday until further notice. Hancock County's curfew begins at 6 p.m. Sunday and ends at 6 a.m. Monday. Six shelters are open in Harrison County, including two that accept pets, and emergency personnel are in place should high-water rescues become necessary. About 150-200 people are in Harrison County shelters.

So far, things are going smoothly, Harrison County Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said Sunday afternoon. He credited the curfews, along with the closure of local casinos, with keeping people off the roads, but he cautioned that while all seems calm right now, flooding will remain a concern, even as the storm moves northward.

"The storm is not over yet," Sullivan said. "We don't know what the back side of this storm is going to bring, so we have to be prepared for the next phase. You can't let your guard down. There may be river flooding and street flooding, so we don't want people going out."

Area residents are accustomed to storms and are generally prepared to take care of themselves and one another, he said.

"I tell people all the time that we have a PhD in storm prep because of Katrina," Sullivan said. "Most of the people that live on the [Mississippi] coast know what to do and when to evacuate. A lot of times we don't have to say anything to them, because they're way ahead of us. They're smart, they've been through this before. They know how to take care of themselves, and we take care of one another."

New Orleans officials said Sunday that they are confident their levee system will not fail as it did in Hurricane Katrina, allowing water to surge into the city. Their main worry: torrential rains.

The area is projected to get 15 to 20 inches of rain from Saturday into Sunday, authorities said at a midday news conference held just before Hurricane Ida made landfall. The downpour could exceed three inches per hour, overwhelming the city's drainage systems and causing flooding.

Leaders warned that the hurricane would cut people off from some city services. The police department is working at "100 percent," Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said, but at some point, it would "have to hunker down."

"Our health-care system, our hospitals are hunkering down," echoed Jennifer Avegno, head of the New Orleans Health Department. "They are caring for the patients that are within their walls. Our first responders will be unable to get to you. Please do not try to access a health-care or a hospital facility right now. We will be there for you when the storm passes, but the safest thing you can do is to stay put."

Authorities urged people to conserve water and said they should stay inside until told otherwise.

"You have everything that you need," said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D). "We will get through this, together."

Jefferson County Parish spokeswoman Gretchen Hirt Gendron said Sunday that the Grand Isle mayor believes about 40 people remained on the island town just off the coast of Louisiana and about 50 miles south of New Orleans. Some are residents; others are first responders staying in a fortified building so that they can respond as soon as it is safe, she said.

Surveillance footage from a parish council member captured tables and benches surrounded by water; other clips showed rushing rapids and trees flailing in the wind, also swamped.

Council member Scott Walker tweeted Sunday morning that the situation was "escalating quickly," with gusts well over 100 mph. By midday, he shared news that a Grand Isle wind-measurement device "broke" at 148 miles per hour and said wind data had been "down for a while."

Published : August 30, 2021