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‘Catastrophic’ Hurricane Ida Hits Louisiana at 240 Km/Hr

This is a developing story that includes information on front-line resources for anyone in the affected area or who wants to help. It also has details on the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.

Update August 30, 10:25 CT: Monday morning brought news of severe flooding, failed levees, people on roofs awaiting rescue, and a million or more in New Orleans without electricity, with weather stations reporting a heat index/humidex of 89°F/32°C. The tropical storm warning for southeastern Louisiana was cancelled six hours ago.

Hurricane Ida cut a path across southeastern Louisiana after storming ashore with sustained winds of 240 kilometres/150 miles per hour, with weather services warning the “catastrophic”, high-end Category 4 storm could bring storm surge, extreme winds, and flooding rains through the early part of this week.

“The storm made two landfalls in southeastern Louisiana on Sunday afternoon, bringing destructive winds, a life-threatening storm surge, flooding rains, and tornadoes to one of the most vulnerable stretches of coast in the United States,” The Weather Network reports. It first came ashore just before noon local time near Port Fourchon, LA, then hit again a few hours later near Galliano with maximum winds of 235 kilometres per hour.

Ida had intensified to a Category 5 hurricane, before hitting land as a “high-end” Category 4.

“Hurricane Ida nearly doubled in strength in a day, fueled by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico,” National Public radio reports, marking the second year in a row that Louisiana faced 150-mile-per-hour winds. “Gov. John Bel Edwards says it will be the strongest storm to hit Louisiana since the 1850s.”

The Weather Channel says two other hurricanes are known to have hit the state with wind speeds this high—Hurricane Laura last year, and a storm in 1856.

The storm landed on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which claimed at least 1,800 lives and raised searing questions about environmental justice and disaster preparedness in the region. “Ida will be a test for an elaborate new flood protection system designed to protect New Orleans from the devastating levee breaches back then,” NPR says, in a post that includes early photos from the disaster zone.

“Vital: If you live in SE Louisiana and you think you’ve rode out the strongest of storms—you haven’t,” @WeatherProf tweeted Sunday morning. “#Ida will be the most intense hurricane you have ever experienced (stronger winds than Katrina). Like a huge tornado. Take every precaution to protect your life and family now.”

At one point, the storm surge was powerful enough to reverse the flow of the Mississippi River, according to a U.S. Geological Survey sensor at Belle Chasse.

Local media has security camera footage of the storm coming ashore in Port Fourchon. On Sunday around 4:30 PM local time, CNN reported flash flood warnings for New Orleans and five parishes in southeastern Louisiana. At 4:45 PM, NBC said all flights out of the area had been cancelled, about 400,000 households were without power, and President Joe Biden had deployed emergency response resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Fossil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico cut oil production 91% and gas production nearly 85%, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Saturday.

“The hurricane hasn’t weakened much since it first made landfall,” The Weather Network said Sunday, adding that “the warm water and low friction of Louisiana’s swamps and marshes can help a hurricane maintain its composure. Ida will begin steadily weakening later Sunday evening once it reaches solid land.”

While early news reports portray an emergency response more organized than the desperately botched effort in 2005, the Washington Post reports that dozens of homeless people in New Orleans were unsheltered as Ida approached, sleeping on sidewalks, in vehicles, or in bus shelters.

“Over the weekend, Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) repeatedly stressed that the city would not be opening emergency shelters, saying officials preferred that people just stayed home,” the Post writes. “Cantrell said she still expected some shelters to be open for those on the streets or in encampments.”

But “several homeless people were spotted Sunday morning, including a man in a wheelchair asleep at a bus shelter. Others were seen crammed under building overhangs or wandering around streets near the French Quarter.”

Another Gulf is Possible, a just transition collaborative based in the region, posted a Just Ida Recovery page with a list of front-line resources. The mutual aid group is promising to “distribute donations directly to Indigenous, black, and brown frontline folks impacted by Hurricane Ida and groups who currently don’t have online donations capacity, as well as directly to individual families impacted by the storm.”

The group predicts a “devastating track of damage” in areas repeatedly slammed last year by hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Zeta.

“This region is also one of the epicentres of the petrochemical industry, adding an even more frightening element to the recovery process,” the resource page states. “The land and water will surely be (further) toxified from the damage caused due to flooding from the storm surge, high-velocity wind (up to 150 mph), in addition to possible chemical spills, flares, and fires.”

And on top of that, “this all occurring in the midst of the Delta surge in the pandemic impacting black and brown people the most, where community recovery efforts will need to take into account safe physical distancing and maintaining all public health best practices.”

After moving inland Sunday afternoon and evening, Ida was expected to pass through portions of Louisiana and Mississippi Monday, then across the Tennessee Valley Tuesday.

“This is a potential disaster in the making for the Gulf of Mexico,” said Weather Network meteorologist Tyler Hamilton. “This is a worst-case scenario to get an intensifying hurricane as it approaches the Gulf states.”