Powerful Hurricane Ida battered the southern US state of Louisiana and plunged New Orleans into darkness Sunday, leaving at least one person dead 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm but had weakened to a Category 1 by early Monday.
The storm knocked out power for all of New Orleans, with more than a million customers across Louisiana without power, according to outage tracker PowerOutage.US.
“We have now lost power, citywide! This is the time to continue to remain in your safe places. It isn’t a time to venture out!!,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Twitter.
Electricity provider Entergy said it was providing backup power to New Orleans Sewage and Water Board, which operates the pumping stations used to control flooding.
The National Weather Service issued warnings of storm surges and flash floods for several areas, including the town of Jean Lafitte, just south of New Orleans, where mayor Tim Kerner said the levees had been breached by rapidly rising waters.
“Total devastation, catastrophic, our town levees have been overtopped,” Kerner told ABC-affiliate WGNO.
“We have anywhere between 75 to 200 people stranded in Barataria,” after a barge took out the swing bridge to the island.
“The winds are still too strong, we can’t put boats in the water to get to them,” he told WGNO.
“We have a small group trying to take out the people in the most imminent danger,” Kerner said. “This is a very dangerous situation. I’ve never seen so much water in my life.”
President Joe Biden, who described Ida as “a life-threatening storm,” declared a major disaster for Louisiana, which gives it access to federal aid.
One person was killed by a falling tree in Prairieville, 60 miles northwest of New Orleans, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office said.
Throughout the morning showers and strong wind swept the city’s deserted streets, buffeting boarded-up windows at businesses and homes surrounded by sandbags.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Ida could be the most powerful storm to hit the state since 1850.
“There is no doubt that the coming days and weeks are going to be extremely difficult,” he said at a briefing Sunday, adding that some people might have to shelter in place for up to 72 hours.
“Find the safest place in your house and stay there until the storm passes,” he tweeted earlier.
‘Not sure if I’m prepared’
Most residents had heeded warnings of catastrophic damage and authorities’ instructions to flee.
In one neighborhood in eastern New Orleans, a few residents were completing preparations just hours before landfall.
“I’m not sure if I’m prepared,” said Charles Fields, who was bringing his garden furniture indoors, “but we just have to ride it.”
“We’ll see how it holds up,” added the 60-year-old, who in 2005 saw Hurricane Katrina flood his house with 11 feet (3.3 meters) of water.
‘Very serious test’
Governor Edwards warned on Sunday that Ida would be “a very serious test for our levee systems,” an extensive network of pumps, gates, and earthen and concrete berms that was expanded after Katrina.
He told CNN that hundreds of thousands of residents were believed to have evacuated.
The storm “presents some very challenging difficulties for us, with the hospitals being so full of Covid patients,” he said.
With a low rate of vaccination, Louisiana is among the states hit hardest by the pandemic, severely stressing hospitals.
Hospitalizations, at 2,700 on Saturday, are near their pandemic high.
The memory of Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005, is still fresh in Louisiana, where it caused some 1,800 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
Rainfall of 10 to 18 inches (25 to 46 centimeters) is expected in parts of southern Louisiana through Monday, with up to 24 inches in some areas.
As of 1:00 am Monday, the storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour (120 kph) and was expected to continue weakening as it moves over land, with a predicted track taking it north over the central United States before veering eastward, reaching the mid-Atlantic region by Wednesday.
The White House said Sunday that federal agencies had deployed more than 2,000 emergency workers to the region — including 13 urban search-and-rescue teams — along with food and water supplies and electric generators.
Local authorities, the Red Cross and other organizations have prepared dozens of shelters with room for at least 16,000 people, the White House added.
Scientists have warned of a rise in cyclone activity as the ocean surface warms due to climate change, posing an increasing threat to the world’s coastal communities.