Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds Sunday, tying the state record and leaving residents awaiting potential tornados and floods on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
"This is one of the strongest storms to make landfall here in modern times," said Gov. John Bel Edwards during a press conference Sunday afternoon. He begged residents who had not evacuated from the storm's path to stay inside and take precautions, and many areas were under curfews.
The latest report from the National Hurricane Center warned of "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding" in southeastern Louisiana. A storm surge warning is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama–Florida border, including Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Mobile Bay. A hurricane warning is in effect for a similar area, as well as metropolitan New Orleans.
By Sunday evening, videos and photos showed roofs being ripped off buildings and water flooding into homes, but the severity of the storm's destruction remains unknown. In New Orleans, emergency services were suspended as the storm conditions proved too dangerous for first responders. Authorities said it was likely search and rescue teams would not deploy until Monday.
"There is no doubt that the coming days and weeks are going to be extremely difficult for our state," Edwards said. "Many, many people are going to be tested in ways that we can only imagine today."
The wind speed of Ida make it the fifth-most-powerful hurricane ever to hit the mainland US, according to the Associated Press. Already, more than 488,000 homes in the New Orleans area have lost power; a generator failure at a hospital in Lafourche Parish had staff manually assisting patients' breathing as they were moved to another floor, NOLA.com reported.
The hurricane's 150 mph winds matched the state record, most recently seen just last year with Hurricane Laura.
Weather disasters are inextricably linked to human-induced climate change. The planet has already warmed 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, according to NASA, and that’s making disasters worse. Hurricanes are getting wetter and more dangerous. Heavier rainfall across the US is triggering more inland flooding. Stopping this vicious circle will require drastically reducing our reliance on climate-polluting fossil fuels.
"EVACUATE!!!!" said the local government in Plaquemines Parish, an area to the southeast of New Orleans, after reports that water was overtopping a levee.
Videos and posted on social media showed the storm battering buildings and homes. One video from Grand Isle, close to where the hurricane first struck land, showed a beachside home filled with water.
The governor said around 98% of Grand Isle residents had evacuated ahead of the storm.
Another video reportedly showed the roof blowing off the Lady of the Sea General Hospital. The hospital, in the coastal community of Galliano, had been battling a surge of COVID-19 patients, as has the rest of the state.
In recent days, authorities had attempted to evacuate hospitals where possible. But many patients were not moved because, as the governor noted, "quite simply put, there is nowhere to bring those individuals."
In addition to the hurricane warning, the National Weather Service made an emergency warning that winds of 115–125 mph were hitting parishes across the state including St. John the Baptist, St. James, St. Charles, Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Jefferson with "swaths of tornado-like damage."
One video showed a tree come down in Harvey, Jefferson Parish, hitting the home next door.
One New Orleans neighbor even fixed a window during the storm of a neighbor who had evacuated to prevent further damage.
The governor urged people sheltering in their homes to have a mattress nearby to protect themselves from falling debris. He also urged people to stay off roads.
He said residents should be prepared to shelter in place for 72 hours after the storm. That's how long it could take for aid to arrive, although he noted that authorities were more ready than they had been for Katrina or other hurricanes.
"As a state, we've never been more prepared," he said.
During remarks Sunday at FEMA headquarters, President Joe Biden called on residents to listen to local authorities for how to survive the "life-threatening storm."
The president said the federal government had already pre-positioned equipment, response teams, and supplies in the region.
“Its devastation is likely to be immense," said Biden. "We shouldn’t kid ourselves.”