subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
Heavy rain falls as storm surge begins to encroach a coastal highway in Louisiana, the US, August 29 2021. Picture: LUKE SHARRETT/BLOOMBERG
Heavy rain falls as storm surge begins to encroach a coastal highway in Louisiana, the US, August 29 2021. Picture: LUKE SHARRETT/BLOOMBERG

Hurricane Ida barrelled into the Louisiana coast on Sunday, packing winds more powerful than Hurricane Katrina and a devastating storm surge that threatens to inundate New Orleans with mass flooding, power outages and destruction.

The Category 4 storm roared ashore at 11.55am local time near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with top winds of 240km/h, the National Hurricane Center said. It 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 225km, will be a bruising test for the region’s levees and infrastructure rebuilt after Katrina. It arrives on the heels of a UN scientific report warning that weather will only grow more extreme as global warming intensifies. Six tropical cyclones have now struck the US in 2021. Floods killed 20 people in August in Tennessee. And drought and heatwave fuelled 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.

Ida, which came ashore about 100km south of New Orleans, is expected to drive up ocean levels as much as 4.9m. Winds will be strong enough to rip roofs from houses, and snap trees and power poles. Up to 60cm 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.”

A satellite image shows Hurricane Ida in the Gulf of Mexico and over the coast of Louisiana, the US, August 29 2021. Picture: NOAA/REUTERS
A satellite image shows Hurricane Ida in the Gulf of Mexico and over the coast of Louisiana, the US, August 29 2021. Picture: NOAA/REUTERS

Blackouts could last weeks. About 105,000 homes and businesses were without power at 12.10pm local time, according to Poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outages.

Ida’s winds tie Louisiana’s hurricane record set by Laura in 2020 and a 19th-century storm. Katrina made landfall with 202km/h winds. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was weaker. At its peak over the Gulf, Katrina’s winds reached about 281km/h, 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 200km from its eye. Ida’s extend 80km.

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 suspend all emergency services until the storm passes.

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 $40bn, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeller at Enki Research. That would make it among the costliest ever in the US.

In the hours before landfall, sidewalks and normally bustling squares in the heart of the city’s tourist district were deserted. Rubbish bins tipped over in the wind and rolled in the street.  

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.  

By Sunday, 537 flights had been cancelled 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, BP  and others are shutting offshore platforms and evacuating crews. 

The Gulf is home to 16% of US 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, maize, soybean and sugar cane 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.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.