A vehicle drives through rain and high winds across Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 29, 2021 during Hurricane Ida (Photo: AFP)

Hurricane Ida batters Louisiana, leaving New Orleans without power

Ida arrived at Port Fourchon, 60 miles south of New Orleans, at midday. It was a Category 4 hurricane, the second-highest storm classification. It brought pounding rain, sustained winds of 150 miles an hour and dangerous sea surges.

All of New Orleans had lost power by Sunday night, an Entergy spokesman confirmed. More than 1 million customers statewide were without power, according to data from poweroutage.us. Earlier in the day, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans advised people not to run dishwashers or washing machines to minimize wastewater because sewage pump stations had been knocked out by power outages.

The first death from the storm was reported by the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, which said deputies responded Sunday night to reports of a person injured from a fallen tree and arrived to find the victim deceased.

Storm trackers said that even after several hours, the hurricane remained as strong as when it made landfall, though by early Monday morning it was downgraded, first to Category 1, then to a tropical storm.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said there were roughly 1,500 people in 23 shelters, and those numbers were expected to increase as people discovered that their homes were no longer habitable. He advised residents to abide by curfews set by parishes and to stay off roads. He said this would be one of the strongest storms the state has experienced since at least the 1850s.

“There is no doubt that the coming days and weeks are going to be extremely difficult for our state,” Gov. Edwards said at an afternoon press conference. “Many people are going to be tested in ways that we can only imagine today.”

Katrina, which made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, as a Category 3 hurricane, killed more than 1,800 people and caused more than $100 billion in property damage, largely because of the failure of levees that led to catastrophic flooding.

A major concern about Ida was whether a $14.6 billion hurricane risk-reduction system put in place since Katrina would withstand the storm’s surges. Gov. Edwards said there would be some overtopping of levees but that levee failures weren’t expected.

Still, even damage less severe than a full breach could have devastating effects, said Andy Horowitz, an associate professor of history at Tulane University in New Orleans and author of “Katrina: A History, 1915-2015.”

“Many people may die from flooding and drown in their homes if the system is overtopped even if the walls don’t fall down,” he said.

The hurricane comes as Louisiana hospitals are already burdened with Covid-19 patients. Cases from the highly contagious Delta variant have surged in the state, and officials cautioned that any casualties from the storm would further strain the system. Some residents cited that risk as an additional reason for evacuating.

Speaking at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, President Biden urged residents to take precautions. He said the federal government is working to open dozens of shelters and is prepared to distribute 2.5 million meals and 3 million liters of water. He signed emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi.

In New Orleans, with many locals gone when the storm arrived, shops and restaurants in the famed French Quarter were boarded up as wind gusts buffeted the city.

The Mississippi River near Jackson Square was roiling. Winds coming from the Gulf reversed the river’s direction, which officials said wasn’t uncommon for a storm of this magnitude.

Zach Harrison, 25 years old, a Tulane School of Social Work student, said he decided to shelter in place with two friends in Mid-City but now regretted the decision. They cooked 5 pounds of shrimp and listened to Van Morrison until the power went out Sunday afternoon.

“I’m worried about the wind blowing the roof off. I’m also worried about extreme flooding,” Mr. Harrison said. “I stayed because of indecisiveness. By the time you realize it’s really, really bad, it’s Sunday already.”

Ida had intensified early Sunday to a Category 4 hurricane, after crossing the warmest and deepest part of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Weather Service in New Orleans said.

The region was expected to see rainfall of up to 20 inches or more. A surge of 12 feet to 16 feet was expected between Port Fourchon and the mouth of the Mississippi River. Tornadoes were possible from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle. The weather service also issued an extreme wind warning for areas near New Orleans on Sunday.

“If you are under a mandatory evacuation…LEAVE NOW!” the weather service in New Orleans warned Saturday evening. “You do not want to play around with your life, and it is not worth it to stay if you have the means to leave.”

Restaurants, bars and other businesses in and around New Orleans had been closed since Saturday afternoon. Many were boarded up and fortified with sandbags as early as Saturday. Even 24-7 dive bars such as Ms. Mae’s and Brothers 3 closed Saturday morning. Only a Walmart, a Winn-Dixie and a few other stores were open Saturday in the city’s uptown neighborhood.

Many people in low-lying areas had moved their cars to higher ground. By Saturday night, only a few people strolled down Bourbon Street in the normally packed French Quarter.

Austin Lane, 38, who owns a Mexican restaurant called El Cucuy, planned to ride out the storm Sunday just to the north in Carriere, Miss. He drove out of New Orleans on Saturday afternoon with his girlfriend, Meghan Ackerman, 40, their four dogs, two cats and two chickens.

Most of his 19 employees also evacuated, some to Houston and one to as far away as Missouri, he said.

The couple brought a generator, headlamps, candles, sausage and two crates of water. As the hurricane pounded their shelter, they brought the chickens inside and cracked open a bottle of bourbon.

“By no means is it a supersafe destination,” Mr. Lane said. “It’s still in the path of the hurricane. It’s just the best I could do after I got my people out and could lock the place up.”

Ida is stirring up a sense of dread, reminding residents of the catastrophic damage and loss of life caused by Katrina.

“As it falls on the date of Katrina, people are pretty spooked and taking it serious and evacuating,” Mr. Lane said.

New Orleans ordered residents living outside the city’s levee system to evacuate. Electric utilities were mobilizing more than 10,000 workers across the state to address power outages, officials said.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas in Louisiana, and along the Gulf Coast from Intracoastal City to the mouth of the Pearl River at the Louisiana-Mississippi border.

On Saturday, traffic leaving the city on Interstate 10 over Lake Pontchartrain had been bumper-to-bumper as people evacuated. But some stayed behind to ride out the storm.

In Houma, La., which was expected to get 10 feet of storm surge, Dr. Howard Russell, 65, said he was planning to stay home Sunday, even though his daughter Gabrielle Russell, a 23-year-old nursing student, evacuated from New Orleans to Kingwood, Texas.

Ms. Russell said she was worried about her father staying in the house where she grew up, because there is a lake beyond their backyard. “We’ll be experiencing quite a few feet of water. You just never know how much rain can build up,” she said.

Her father, who will be in the house alone, boarded up its front door and planned to watch the news Sunday. He said he has enough gas to run his generator for a week and supplies to last a month. But he was still hoping that the storm would pass and that he would be able to drive to work Monday morning.

“It’s not my first rodeo,” Dr. Russell said. “My biggest fears are all my shingles coming off my roof.”

Ida’s path made it a threat to the vast oil-refining and petrochemical complex along the U.S. Gulf Coast, which produces some 4.4 million barrels a day of refining capacity, almost a quarter the nation’s total.

Oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico account for about 17% of U.S. oil production and 5% of natural gas output. As of Sunday, Gulf offshore producers had shut about 96% of their oil production and 94% of gas output, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Before the storm reached the Louisiana coast, oil refiners in the region had also reduced refining capacity. Colonial Pipeline Co., operator of the largest U.S. fuel conduit, shut two key lines that move fuel from Houston to Greensboro, N.C., while two others that run from North Carolina to Linden, N.J., were still operating, it said Sunday.

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