Hurricane Ida hit the US state of Louisiana with winds of up to 240 km/h and caused a blackout in New Orleans, where only generators work.
The storm is potentially “catastrophic,” warned the National Hurricane Center.
Thousands fled. Those who remained were advised to take shelter until everything passed.
Hurricane Ida will test the dikes created to contain floods in New Orleans, which were reinforced after Hurricane Katrina killed 1,800 people in 2005. So far, the dikes are holding.
President Joe Biden said Ida would be “fatal”, probably causing great devastation off the coast.
Biden said it could take weeks for electricity supplies to be restored to thousands of homes.
Katrina hit New Orleans exactly 16 years ago
Ida gained traction in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend and hit the US coast when it touched the ground near Port Fourchon, south of New Orleans, like a category four hurricane on a scale of five.
Since then, it has lost some strength and turned into a category three storm.
Nada Tawfik, a BBC News reporter, reports that New Orleans was plunged into darkness after power was cut across the city.
Around the famous French Quarter, debris and tree branches litter the streets. “Staying outside is painful.”
Most residents, for the most part, heeded the warnings to stay indoors during the worst of the storm.
Hurricane Ida arrived on the exact day of Katrina’s 16th anniversary, which was also a category three storm. Since then, billions of dollars have been spent on flood defenses.
“Locals say hurricanes have become part of their lives. It’s the compensation they accept for everything else the city has to offer,” says Tawfik. “But there’s always the fear that the next one will be ‘the big one’ storm.”
“There is no doubt that the coming days and weeks will be extremely difficult for our state and many, many people will be tested,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
“But I can also say that we’ve never been more prepared,”
‘Don’t leave the house’
The impact of climate change on storm frequency is still unclear, but rising sea surface temperatures warm the air, making more energy available to drive hurricanes.
As a result, they are likely to be more intense with more extreme rains.
New Orleans resident Tanya Gulliver Garcia, who works for the Disaster Philanthropy Center, told the BBC she will not leave town.
“I’m quite worried, more than I thought I would be. I’ve been a disaster volunteer for several years… But it’s different when it’s in your own home,” she said.
The US National Weather Service told residents of New Orleans, “Go to a windowless room. Don’t come out.”
Hospitals under pressure
Louisiana hospitals are already under pressure from the covid-19 pandemic. The state has the third highest rate of infections in the country.
Normally, hospitals on the predicted path of the hurricane would be evacuated, but this time there are few beds available, even in facilities farther inland.
“We have nowhere to take these patients. Not in the state, not out of town,” Edwards said.
More than 90% of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been stopped.
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