NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Ida blasted ashore on the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm Sunday, killing one person, slamming the barrier island Grand Isle west of New Orleans, and pummeling the communities in its path with rain and wind that packed sustained gusts of 150 mph. Power was still down and many roads were still flooded Monday morning as Ida‘s intensity was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Ida was already blamed for at least one death in Louisiana, The Associated Press reported. Deputies with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of someone injured by a fallen tree at a home in Prairieville outside Baton Rouge and confirmed the death, the office said Sunday on Facebook. The victim was not identified.
Reports from southern parishes where power was lost were sketchy.
Ida hit on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 Category 3 storm that triggered a disaster when New Orleans‘ overmatched levees broke. Ida is the fifth Category 4 storm to pummel Louisiana since such records began, and the first since Laura devastated some communities on the border with Texas last year.
New Orleans’ rebuilt levees were overtopped in several places Sunday, but there were no indications of breaks that could trigger massive flooding. Spot flooding was a problem along Ida’s path, as some areas were inundated with rain — though totals appeared to be far less than predicted.
Hurricane trackers with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, who had been grounded much of Saturday, finally got aloft over the storm in the Gulf of Mexico and showed a tightly formed eye with intense weather along the eastern edge — always the strongest in hurricanes that churn counterclockwise.
Ida, which had strengthened dramatically over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday night, weakened as it moved inland, and around 4 p.m. sustained winds stood at 140 mph — though gusts were well below that north and east of the storm which was angling northwest toward Baton Rouge.
High winds were expected throughout southeastern Louisiana into Sunday night as residents prepped as best they could for extended power outages. By 4 p.m. Entergy reported there were more than 420,000 customers without power in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, which curls around the city’s western and southern edges.
Another 17,000 were without power north of Lake Pontchartrain, while tens of thousands more were without power in surrounding parishes, with the storm expected to wreak havoc on energy grids well into Sunday night.
“The rain and the power outages are still coming,” Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee-Sheng said. “If you’re going to stay at home, please stay inside — find the safest place in an interior room away from windows, skylights and any glass. You have to be strategic in where you ride out this storm.”
Reported storm surges on the coast appeared to be less than predicted, with levels topping at 4 or 5 feet, although forecasters were surprised to see some higher surges east of the Mississippi River.
Authorities on Sunday issued warnings against looting, which was widespread after Katrina and in some infamous cases even involved New Orleans police officers. Gov. John Bel Edwards said thousands of National Guard troops were stationed around the state Saturday, and by noon Sunday there were 260 National Guard troops posted on the city streets around 11:45 a.m., and an unspecified number in Jefferson Parish, according to parish and city officials.
It remained unclear how many people may have evacuated the area, although anecdotal evidence suggests considerable numbers of New Orleanians chose to ride out the storm.
Arriving with a barometric pressure of 930 millibars, Ida preliminarily goes down as tied for the fifth strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States based on wind speed. Based on central pressure it is tied for 9th strongest U.S. landfall.
Cars were parked on the median Sunday in New Orleans, which is a few feet higher and can protect against potential flooding. Most businesses were closed, but Breads on Oak, located three blocks from the Mississippi River levee, was open and offering two-for-one deals to get as much of their baked goods sold as possible, according to Associated Press reports.
In Port Fourchon, boats and helicopters gathered to take workers and supplies to oil platforms in the ocean and the oil extracted starts it journey toward refineries. The port handles about one-fifth of the nation’s domestic oil and gas, officials said.
Along with the oil industry, Ida threatened a region already reeling from a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, due to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant. More than 2 million people live around New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the wetlands to the south.
New Orleans hospitals planned to ride out the storm with their beds nearly full, as similarly stressed hospitals elsewhere had little room for evacuated patients. And shelters for those fleeing their homes carried an added risk of becoming flashpoints for new infections.
Comparisons to the Aug. 29, 2005, landfall of Katrina weighed heavily on residents bracing for Ida. Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.