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Ida Hammers Louisiana, Cutting Power to New Orleans

The storm roared ashore as a Category 4 hurricane at 11:55 a.m. local time near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with top winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour, the National Hurricane Center said.

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Utility workers play in the wind from Hurricane Ida as they wait for the storm to pass to begin repairs on August 29, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ida made landfall earlier today southwest of New Orleans. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)
Scott Olson/TNS
(TNS) - Hurricane Ida barreled into the Louisiana coast on Sunday, packing winds more powerful than Hurricane Katrina and a “catastrophic” storm surge that left New Orleans without power and facing mass flooding and destruction.

The storm roared ashore as a Category 4 hurricane at 11:55 a.m. local time near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with top winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. It was reduced to Category 3 as it moved inland, though it was forecast to remain a hurricane throughout the night.

Ida comes on the 16th anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, which left the region in ruins and killed more than 1,800 people.

Ida, so sprawling that its tropical-force winds extend 140 miles, will be a bruising test for the region’s levees and infrastructure rebuilt after Katrina. It arrives on the heels of a United Nations scientific report warning that weather will only grow more extreme as global warming intensifies. Six tropical cyclones have now struck the U.S. this year. Floods killed 20 people this month in Tennessee. And drought- and heat-wave-fueled wildfires are raging in California, Minnesota, Greece and Turkey.

Ida hits Louisiana at a particularly vulnerable moment. The state’s hospitals are already overwhelmed with more than 2,600 coronavirus patients. Just 41% of the population is fully vaccinated. A hospital in Lafourche Parish reported extensive roof damage while another had a partial generator failure, according to the Associated Press.

“I feel sick to my stomach watching,” Eric Blake, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center said on Twitter.

Ida, which came ashore about 60 miles south of New Orleans, drove up ocean levels as much as 16 feet (4.9 meters). Winds were strong enough to rip roofs from houses, and snap trees and power poles. Up to 2 feet of rain may fall.

“We’re in for some historic floods,” said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group. “The rainfall — that is going to be the next story.”

New Orleans was without power as of about 8 p.m. local time, according to Entergy Corp., while across the state, more than 750,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity, data from utility tracking service Poweroutage.us showed. Blackouts could last weeks. First responders didn’t even plan to start answering search and rescue calls until the sun comes up Monday.

“We won’t have the real picture until tomorrow,” Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said during a briefing in Washington. “Then we can start moving additional resources in.”

Ida’s 150 mph winds tie Louisiana’s hurricane record set by Laura in 2020 and a 19th century storm. Katrina made landfall with 126 mph winds. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was weaker. At its peak over the Gulf, Katrina’s winds reached about 175 mph, making it a Category 5 system with a monstrous storm surge. And while Ida is big, Katrina was even bigger — with hurricane-force winds that reached out 125 miles from its eye. Ida’s extend 50 miles.

New Orleans asked residents to evacuate or take shelter. The levee gates are closed in many areas and hospital wards were cleared out. Most oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is shut down. Thousands of people have fled the region. The city has suspended all emergency services until the storm passes.

The Mississippi River is flowing in reverse in southeastern Louisiana as the hurricane forces vast volumes of sea water ashore, and barges broke free of their moorings. A tornado watch was issued for parts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, with a warning issued for the Slidell area.

Ralph Tovar, a visitor from Chicago who was stranded in New Orleans because his flight was canceled, tore apart a plastic umbrella bag to fashion a rain-proof hood as he stood inside the oldest cathedral in the U.S., St. Louis Cathedral, as the first gales began to lash the city.

“It’s in God’s hands now,” Tovar said in an interview. “Hopefully, we can get out Tuesday. Stay safe everyone and try to stay inside.”

The storm could damage close to 1 million homes along the coast, according to CoreLogic. It’s forecast to run directly over chemical plants, refineries and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. All told, damages and losses could exceed $40 billion, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research. That would make it among the costliest ever in the U.S.

Even if the levee system holds and keeps the surge at bay, New Orleans could face a major flood risk from the rain alone, said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger. FEMA has deployed about 2,500 people to Louisiana and states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas.

As of Sunday, 537 flights had been canceled in New Orleans, Dallas and Houston through Monday, according to FlightAware, an airline tracking service. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was thronged with local residents lining up for outbound flights or trying to rent vehicles to flee the city. Queues at rental car kiosks were hours long.

Oil explorers bracing for the storm have already halted the equivalent of more than 1.2 million barrels of daily crude production. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc and others are shutting offshore platforms and evacuating crews.

The Gulf is home to 16% of U.S. crude production, 2% of its natural gas output and 48% of the nation’s refining capacity. After Ida comes ashore, it could also flood cotton, corn, soybean and sugarcane crops, said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster Maxar.

In addition to Ida, the hurricane center is tracking three more potential storms in the Atlantic and Hurricane Nora which is raking Mexico’s Pacific coast.

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