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

New Orleans — Ida lost some of its punch over southwestern Mississippi on Monday after making landfall in Louisiana as one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the region, but it could still trigger heavy flooding, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Ida, the first major hurricane to strike the US this year, made landfall about noon on Sunday as a Category 4 storm over Port Fourchon, a hub of the Gulf's offshore oil industry, packing sustained winds of up to 150 miles (240km) per hour.

Though weakened to a tropical storm, heavy downpours could bring life-threatening flooding, the NHC said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Deanne Criswell said the full impact of the storm would become clear later in the day.

“We're hearing about widespread structural damage,” Criswell said in an interview with CNN. “I don't think there could have been a worse path for this storm. It's going to have some significant impacts.”

Federal levees installed to reduce the risk of flooding appeared to have held, according to preliminary reports.

“Daylight will bring horrific images as the damage is assessed. More than 20,000 linemen will work to restore the deeply damaged power lines,” Shauna Sanford, communications director for Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards wrote in a tweet.

“The good news: no federal levee failed or was overtopped.”

Kevin Lepine, president of Plaquemines Parish, home to 23,000 residents and one of Louisiana's southernmost communities, said he had had little sleep overnight as he braced for first light and the chance to go and assess the damage.

“We're worried about the levees down the road,” he said.

On Sunday night, the sheriff's office in Ascension Parish reported the first known US fatality from the storm, a 60-year-old man killed by a tree falling on his home near Baton Rouge, the state capital.

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the state, ordering federal assistance to bolster recovery efforts in more than two dozen storm-stricken parishes.

Ida crashed ashore as Louisiana was already reeling from a resurgence of Covid-19 infections that has strained the state's healthcare system, with an estimated 2,450 Covid-19 patients hospitalised statewide, many in intensive care units.

Its arrival came 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic and deadly US storms on record, struck the Gulf Coast, and about a year after the last Category 4 hurricane, Laura, battered Louisiana.

A loss of generator power at the Thibodaux Regional Health System hospital in Lafourche Parish, southwest of New Orleans, forced medical workers to manually assist respirator patients with breathing while they were moved to another floor, the state health department confirmed to Reuters.

Within 12 hours of landfall, Ida had ploughed a destructive path that submerged much of the state's coastline under several feet of surf, with flash flooding reported by the NHC across southeastern Louisiana.

Nearly all offshore Gulf oil production was suspended in advance of the storm, and major ports along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts were closed to shipping.

Widespread outages 

Power was knocked out on Sunday night to the entire New Orleans metropolitan area after the failure of all eight transmission lines that deliver electricity to the city, the utility company Entergy Louisiana reported.

One transmission tower collapsed into the Mississippi River, the Jefferson Parish Emergency Management Department said.

More than 1-million Louisiana homes and businesses in all were without electricity early on Monday, as well as some 120,000 in Mississippi, according to the tracking site Poweroutage.US.

Residents of the most vulnerable coastal areas were ordered to evacuate days ahead of the storm. Those riding out the storm in their homes in New Orleans braced for the toughest test yet of major upgrades to a levee system constructed after devastating floods in 2005 from Katrina, a hurricane that claimed some 1,800 lives.

The US Army Corps of Engineers said the newly reinforced New Orleans levees were expected to hold, though they said the flood walls could be overtopped in some places.

Hundreds of miles of new levees were built about New Orleans after flooding from Katrina inundated much of the low-lying city, especially historically Black neighbourhoods.

Inundation from Ida's storm surge — high surf driven by the hurricane's winds — was reported to be exceeding predicted levels of 6 feet (1.8m) along parts of the coast. Videos posted on social media showed storm surge flooding had transformed sections of Highway 90 along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast into a choppy river. 

Reuters

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