Hurricane Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes in history to reach the United States, hit the coast of Louisiana last Sunday with the full force of its 150 miles per hour (240 km/h) winds, in fear that New Orleans could relive the devastation caused just 16 years ago by Cyclone Katrina.
New Orleans, which is on the northeast side of the track pattern, the most dangerous because of the strength of its winds and rainfall, is already suffering from Ida, which, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), could cause a “catastrophic” storm surge, “extreme” winds, flooding and flash flooding throughout the region.
Of greatest concern are the levees protecting the city from Lake Pontchartrain, which broke in 2005, flooding the city and killing more than 1,800 people, and which the current governor, John Bel Edwards, said will have to pass a “very serious test” with this Category 4 hurricane.
Orlando Bermudez, NWS meteorologist, explained Sunday to the press in a teleconference that if the storm surge is expected to exceed 16 feet (4.8 meters) above sea level, the water will certainly exceed the levees.
To this “very critical” situation should be added the forecast of heavy rains that could leave a total of up to 24 inches (60 centimeters) of rainwater in southeastern Louisiana and the southern tip of the state of Mississippi until Monday, in what he called “imminent danger”.
The city’s mayor, LaToya Cantrell, who on Friday had ordered a mandatory evacuation of people living outside the levee system, said Sunday at the last news conference before the worst of Ida arrives that the only way to get through the ordeal is to be united.
“We’re going to get through this together,” he said in an appearance in which the main message was that people in the city should seek shelters immediately and that the multimillion-dollar investment made in the levee system since 2005 will save the city this time, even though Ida is much more powerful than Katrina (Category 3) was.
Hurricane Ida’s force winds extend up to 50 miles (80 km) from its center and the eye of the cyclone is expected to pass only about 30 miles (50 km) west of New Orleans.
The city already has the outer bands of the hurricane, which made landfall at 11.55 local time (16.66 GMT) near Port Fourchon, through which about 18% of the U.S. domestic oil supply passes, according to data from the local Chamber of Commerce.
According to the latest available data, Ida is moving at 13 miles per hour (20 km/h) and is heading northwest, which would lead the center of the hurricane to pass in the next few hours over or very close to the city of Baton Rouge, capital and second most populous city in the state, behind New Orleans, with about 220,000 inhabitants.
Hurricane Ida will be historic
Radar and reconnaissance aircraft data indicate that Ida’s maximum sustained winds at landfall were estimated at 150 mph (240 km/h), according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
It thus equaled Laura, which made landfall just under a year ago on August 27, 2020, very close to where Ida made landfall this Sunday, and the 1856 Last Island cyclone as the strongest hurricanes on record in the state of Louisiana.
The last estimated minimum central pressure before Ida made landfall was 930 millibars, making Ida also one of the strongest hurricanes in history to make landfall in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The possible consequences of Ida that have been drawn by national and local authorities are devastating and not for less, since it was 7 miles per hour (11 km/h) away from reaching the maximum category on the Saffir-Simpson scale (5), which measures hurricanes by the strength of their winds.
Even so, according to the NHC, homes suffering from a Category 4 hurricane can easily lose their roofs and exterior walls, most trees are broken or uprooted, and most of the area can be “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
Against this backdrop, the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi asked the federal government to declare an emergency, and President Joe Biden granted it in order to speed up the delivery of material, personnel and funds to deal with the possible consequences of Ida.
More than 2,400 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel have already been deployed in the region, in addition to 12 search and rescue teams and a hundred ambulances.