Hurricane Ida quickly intensified Saturday as it seemed headed straight toward the Gulf of Mexico coast, where it is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane Sunday afternoon or evening. Early Saturday afternoon, the storm reached Category 2 winds reaching as high as 100 mph and is forecast to continue strengthening to reach 130 mph winds by Sunday. The National Hurricane Center has warned the hurricane will create an “extremely life-threatening” ocean surge that could reach 15 feet and there’s a high risk of extensive flooding. Ida is being eyed particularly warily in New Orleans, considering it is set to strike 16 years to the day since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. “Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Louisiana,” the Hurricane Center said.
Ida strengthened so quickly—it was a tropical depression only two days ago—that it didn’t give officials time to order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. But officials urged people on the storm’s path to leave if they could. “Today is it,” Jamie Rhome, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center said Saturday. “If you’re in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, you really, really have to get going because today is it in terms of protecting life and property.” The heavy traffic all along the northern Gulf Coast made it clear that many people had heeded the warning and were rushing to get out of the storm’s path.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Ida would bring strong winds that would affect a 300-mile area. “We have a very serious situation on our hands,” Edwards said at a briefing. “This will be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit anywhere in the state of Louisiana since at least the 1850s.” Officials warned residents who stayed put that they should be prepared for long power outages. Southeast Louisiana is expected to be hit by strong winds starting early Sunday and the conditions will continue to deteriorate through early Monday morning.
As the comparisons with Katrina seemed inevitable, officials tried to reassure citizens that the systems protecting New Orleans have greatly improved since then. “This is a very different, protected city than it was 16 years ago,” Ramsey Green, the top infrastructure official in New Orleans, said. Still, he warned that flooding would be inevitable if there is a lot of rain in a short period of time. And even though much of the concern is with New Orleans, meteorologists warned other areas were also at high risk for major damage. “It’s not just the coastal impact. It’s not just New Orleans,” meteorologist Steve Bowen said. “We’re certainly looking at potential losses well into the billions.”