- New Orleans residents are told they can’t expect emergency help until 72 hours after the storm has passed.
- Schools are canceled Monday in New Orleans and other areas.
- Shelters are open in Louisiana and Mississippi
- Officials worry about the strain on already overburdened hospitals.
All residents in New Orleans were advised Saturday to leave the city and told that first responders will not be able to reach them during Hurricane Ida.
Residents outside New Orleans’ levees were ordered to evacuate Friday, but Mayor LaToya Cantrell said there wasn’t enough time to coordinate a mandatory city-wide evacuation. Those inside the levees were under a voluntary evacuation.
Saturday, Cantrell urged residents to leave on their own and find somewhere else to ride out the storm.
“What we know is today — right now — everyone has to make a decision to leave voluntarily, which I am recommending. Do that. Prepare yourselves now … or stay on site, hunker down … in a safe space,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a Saturday afternoon news conference. “This is our time, your time, to prepare yourself now. This is it.”
(MORE: The Latest Forecast for Hurricane Ida)
Collin Arnold, the city’s emergency management director, said emergency workers would not be able to reach residents during the storm and they should plan to be on their own for up to 72 hours after it passes.
Cantrell said the city was in touch with about 100 special needs residents who may need extra assistance and plans were underway to open shelters or other necessary services after the storm.
The U.S. Coast Guard and other rescue agencies are poised across the region.
“We have staged a lot of capability here on the Gulf Coast,” Vice Admiral Steven Poulin, commander of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, told The Weather Channel in an interview.
Poulin said those assets include more than 45 aircraft that have been deployed from Coast Guard units in several states. He also stressed that help wouldn’t be available until after Ida passes.
“We’ll take risk but we’re not going to take any unnecessary risk,” he said.
Preparations took on a sense of urgency as the time to safely evacuate shortened and forecasters warned that the storm could bring deadly storm surge, dangerous rainfall flooding, winds and tornadoes and to a swath of coastal southeastern Louisiana and areas inland.
“If you can leave, you need to leave, and now is the time,” Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said in a message to residents while speaking to weather.com Saturday morning.
Jefferson Parish, which borders New Orleans to the west and stretches down to the barrier island of Grand Isle, issued a mandatory evacuation for residents outside of its levee system. Sheng said those inside the protection barriers, which includes most of the parish’s 429,000 residents, would be safe but were encouraged to go somewhere else for the storm and its aftermath.
“Obviously, life is going to be difficult, it’s very hot down here in Louisiana in August, we’re expecting wide spread power outages with these high winds,” Sheng said.
She noted there was a steady stream of cars driving away from the evacuation areas, but traffic was moving.
Cameras on portions of Interstate 10 showed long lines of cars Saturday afternoon heading away from the areas expected to feel Ida’s wrath, including New Orleans.
The National Weather Service in New Orleans warned that some areas could be uninhabitable for weeks.
“Widespread power outages in our area are guaranteed,” the agency said in a tweet. “Preparations need to be completed by TONIGHT. Ida will be a dangerous hurricane with catastrophic impacts!”
In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves said residents should brace for storm surge and power outages.
“Clearly we are looking at significant challenges,” Reeve said in a news conference Saturday afternoon.
Hurricane Ida is expected to rapidly intensify in the Gulf of Mexico as it moves northwestward and is currently expected to be at major hurricane strength, possibly even Category 4 intensity, when it approaches the northern Gulf Coast Sunday.
Ida is garnering many comparisons to Katrina, especially because it could make landfall 16 years to the day after Katrina devastated parts of New Orleans and surrounding areas in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Forecasters say that while Ida is a very dangerous and life threatening storm, it’s not going to be as strong as Katrina.
(MORE: Are Masks Required in Hurricane SheltersCOVID-19 Rules in Place at Shelters in Louisiana, Mississippi)
Mandatory evacuations were underway in several other areas, including St. Charles, Terrebonne, Assumption, Plaquemines and Lafourche parishes in Louisiana and Hancock County in Mississippi. Shelters were open in several areas, with COVID-19 protocols in place including masks, temperature checks and social distancing.
People in low-lying areas of Gulfport, Mississippi, were advised to leave Saturday. Mayor Billy Hewes told The Weather Channel Saturday that mandatory evacuations could be issued depending on how the storm tracks.
Hospitals Already Overburdened
At the same time officials in Louisiana are watching the potentially deadly storm approach, they’re warning of hospitals filled to capacity due to COVID-19 and telling people not to go to emergency rooms unless they have a life-threatening situation.
“We’re a very vulnerable community to be having to take the punch of this storm,” Sheng said.
Sheng said people need to be careful after the storm, when people are often hurt or even killed during cleanup.
“It is not the time to be having unnecessary injuries or preventable injuries,” she said.
The parish, like many others in the state, has been dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, some reaching record highs.
“Our numbers just started coming down a little bit and now we’re having to deal with Hurricane Ida,” Sheng said.
She said plans were underway to have sites set up for people to switch out oxygen tanks and deal with other similar medical issues after the storm, rather than having people go to the hospitals.
(MORE: Hurricane Ida Will Only Add to Storm Fatigue in Louisiana, Mississippi)
“Once again we find ourselves dealing with a natural disaster in the midst of a pandemic,” Dr. Jennifer Avengo, New Orleans public health director, said during a Friday news conference. “Our plea and our hope is that everyone will prepare for both very seriously and very thoroughly.”
Louisiana had the third-highest per capita number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in the nation over the last 14 days, according to data tracked by the New York Times. Fourth is Mississippi, which could also see impacts from Ida.
“Our medical community is stressed beyond belief right now,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter told weather.com in a phone call Friday. “The idea of a hurricane coming through and adding additional burden to that community is really scary.”
Here’s a look at some other preparations taking place ahead of Ida.
-Travelers at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport were told not to come to the airport unless they know for sure their travel is confirmed. The airport was crowded with travelers heading out Saturday.
All flights have been canceled into and out of the airport on Sunday.
-A curfew goes into effect starting at 6 p.m. Saturday in LaFourche Parish.
-Schools will be closed Monday in New Orleans and several other parishes, including Jefferson, Terrebonne and Lafourche.
-A state of emergency was declared statewide in Louisiana and in several parishes. President Joe Biden approved a federal emergency declaration Friday afternoon.
-The Louisiana Department of Transportation announced that tolls are suspended on the LA 1 Expressway in Leeville in Lafourche Parish.
-Workers were ferried from oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico Friday morning, Reuters reported. Royal Dutch Shell and BP were evacuating eight platforms each. Several other companies were following suit.
-The New Orleans Saints canceled their preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Caesars Superdome. It was scheduled to be played Saturday.
-Sandbags were handed out in some areas, workers are clearing storm drains and preparing infrastructure.
-The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board said 96 of the city’s 99 drainage pumps are available for service in case of flooding in the city.
-Drive-thru COVID-19 testing and vaccine sites in New Orleans closed at noon Friday in order to pack up tents and equipment ahead of the storm. Several other cities and parishes also shut down their sites.
-The Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshall reminded everyone to follow safety rules when using generators. That includes not placing generators inside or adjacent to buildings or enclosed structures. Several people died while using generators after last year’s string of storms that hit the state.
-Officials in Gulfport planned to announce a curfew.
-Some casino’s along the Mississippi coast have decided to close ahead of the storm.
The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.