A life-threatening storm along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast will produce winds as high as 130mph. Forecasters warned Louisiana residents to take precautions ahead of the intensifying Hurricane Ida.
The National Hurricane Center said the warm Gulf waters could bolster Ida's destructive power from a Category 2 storm to an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane in 18 hours or less, reported the Associated Press.
By Saturday afternoon, Ida was a Category 2 hurricane with maximum-sustained winds of 105 mph (168 kph). The storm was centered about 325 miles (525 kilometers) southeast of coastal Houma, Louisiana, and was travelling northwest at 16 mph (26 kph). Heavy traffic Saturday brought Interstate 10 out of New Orleans to a standstill as people moved to escape the storm's path.
Ida was poised to strike Louisiana's region 16 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. Weakened to a Category 3 storm at its second landfall, Katrina caused 1,800 deaths, leveed breaches and produced catastrophic flooding in New Orleans that took years to recover.
"We're not the same state we were 16 years ago," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday, citing the federal levee system that's seen significant improvements since Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans in 2005.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called for a voluntary evacuation and reiterated Saturday that people were running out of time to leave safely. Ida's rapid progression prevents a mandatory evacuation of the city's 390,000 residents.
Lines at gas pumps and car rental agencies grew long as residents and tourists alike prepared to leave Saturday. However, many gas stations around New Orleans were out of gas. Those still open had lines dozens of cars long.
City officials also were preparing to open shelters for anyone displaced by the storm. They warned residents to expect prolonged power outages amid sweltering heat in the coming days. Ramsey Green, the city's top infrastructure official, stressed that the levee and drainage systems protecting the city had been much improved since Katrina. "That said, if we see 10 to 20 inches of rain over an abbreviated period of time, we will see flooding," he said.
"This system is going to be tested," added Edwards. "The people of Louisiana are going to be tested. But we are resilient and tough people. And we're going to get through this." He said that 5,000 National Guard troops are on standby for search and rescue efforts with high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters. 10,000 linemen also are ready to respond to expected electrical outages.
President Joe Biden tweeted Friday: "This afternoon, I held a call with the head of FEMA and governors ahead of Hurricane Ida to discuss preparations for what is expected to be a dangerous storm. If you are in the storm’s path, please comply with local evacuation instructions."
Forecasters said Hurricane Ida posed a threat beyond New Orleans. A hurricane warning was issued for nearly 200 miles of Louisiana's coastline, from Intracoastal City south of Lafayette to the Mississippi state line. A tropical storm warning was extended to the Alabama-Florida line, and Mobile Bay in Alabama was under a storm surge watch.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency Saturday for the state's coastal and western counties, warning Ida could bring flooding and tornadoes there. While in the state of Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves urged residents to stay off of interstate highways to make room for people fleeing Louisiana. He said 19 shelters had opened to take in evacuees.
On Saturday, Biden confirmed: "FEMA deployed emergency response personnel and pre-positioned food, water, generators, and supplies to make sure we're ready to respond. If you are in Ida's path, please pay attention and be prepared."