A person crosses the street during Hurricane Ida on Sunday in New Orleans. The hurricane, which made landfall with 150 mile-per-hour winds, is one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the state since the middle of the 19th century. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Hurricane Ida will remain dangerous and destructive until at least Monday morning, Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a press conference Sunday afternoon.
“We’re just getting started,” he said.
The storm came ashore as a Category 4 storm in Port Fourchon on the Louisiana coast just before noon Sunday. With 150 mile-per-hour winds, it is one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in Louisiana since the middle of the 19th century.
“There is no doubt that the coming days and weeks are going to be extremely difficult for our state, and many, many people are going to be tested in ways that we can only imagine today,” Edwards said. “But I can also tell you that, as a state, we’ve never been more prepared.”
Ida arrived on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — which destroyed much of New Orleans – and two days after the first anniversary of Hurricane Laura, which devastated Lake Charles in the southwestern region of the state.
Edwards said southeastern Louisiana residents who stayed for Hurricane Ida need to be prepared to “shelter in place” for 72 hours after the storm has passed. Search and rescue crews won’t be able to start their work until Monday morning, he said.
“We will be ready at first light tomorrow morning to go out in those areas that we know already have received the most damaging impacts of the storm,” Edwards said.
Louisiana’s entire National Guard — nearly 5,000 people — have been called up to service. The state fire marshal, law enforcement and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agents will also be involved in search and rescue missions — and there’s an additional 900 people on loan from 16 other states available to help, Edwards said.
By Sunday evening, Ida had already hit Louisiana’s coastal towns like Houma, which is home to a large segment of the state’s commercial fishing operations and the nexus of the offshore oil and gas industry. Ida also walloped Grand Isle, a popular vacation spot, though Edwards said almost the entire population of that barrier island had been evacuated before the storm.
From Sunday evening to Monday morning, Ida is expected to creep its way up into the most populous areas of Louisiana — hitting New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain hard. Communities will not not only face the strongest winds they have seen in decades, but may also be inundated with flooding for much of the rest of the week, according to local weather reports.
Many coastal parishes put mandatory evacuations in place Friday. Notably, New Orleans did not. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the storm was moving too quickly by Friday evening to safely make that call, but thousands of residents fled the city voluntarily, resulting in hours-long traffic jams on interstates going to Texas and Florida on Saturday.
Louisiana is trying to avoid some of the problems it saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections has agreed to house 2,500 jail detainees and prisoners from Acadia, Plaquemines, St. Mary, Orleans, St. Bernard, Vermillion and Terrebonne parishes. After Hurricane Katrina, people in jails struggled to get access to food and water.
Edwards also insisted Sunday that the state is “more prepared than it ever has been” for a hurricane of Ida’s magnitude. After Hurricane Katrina, the federal government spent billions of dollars developing a new protection system consisting of levees and floodgates around New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. Though Louisiana has been threatened with other storms in recent years, Hurricane Ida is the first time the state intends to make use of the full protection system.
“Will [New Orleans storm protection system] be tested? Yes. But it was built for this moment,” Edwards said.
The governor said about 1,400 people were being housed in public shelters across the state Sunday afternoon, but expected that number to grow. Power companies are warning Louisiana residents that they could be without electricity — and air conditioning — for several days.
The governor expects that more people will find their homes uninhabitable after the hurricane passes. The state has enough capacity to house approximately 10,300 people now and more public shelters will be opened.
The state will also provide over 150 buses to help people get from the areas affected by the hurricanes to safer places in north Louisiana. Louisiana may also pay for some evacuees to stay in hotel rooms in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
One major concern that remains is whether Louisiana’s hospitals will be able to withstand Hurricane Ida.
Four smaller hospital facilities, 22 nursing homes, 18 assisted living facilities and 61 intermediate care facilities in the state have already been evacuated, but major hospitals don’t have the option of evacuation right now.
Hospitals throughout the region are at capacity with COVID-19 patients and those in safe areas don’t have enough beds to accommodate the patients that would need to be transferred.
“No [major] hospitals have been evacuated — the Tier 1 hospitals — because, quite simply put, there’s nowhere to bring those individuals,” Edwards said. “They’re in a hospital because they need that setting and we don’t have the capacity elsewhere.”
Hospitals in the path of Ida are operating with extra generators, water and medication on hand in anticipation of not being able to evacuate, but the governor said the hurricane could also put additional strain on medical staffing in hospitals over the next few days.
Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals may not be able to stay working in hospitals if their homes become damaged, their houses lose power or they have to evacuate with family, he said.
The governor said the state was bringing additional medical staff into Louisiana to help out hospitals with Louisiana’s COVID-19 surge, but those staff members weren’t able to get to the state because they couldn’t secure hotel rooms ahead of the storm. The state will try to bring those relief medical staff members back to Louisiana again after Hurricane Ida has passed.
“We know that the longer the power stays out, the more challenging this is going to be,” Edwards said.
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