By Devika Krishna Kumar and Jonathan Allen
NEW ORLEANS, Aug 29 (Reuters) – Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday as an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, forcing those who did not flee to brace themselves for the toughest test yet of the billions of dollars spent on levee upgrades following Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.
Ida came ashore near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, at 11:55 a.m. CDT, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Hurricane-strength winds extended 50 miles (80 km) out from Ida’s eye, forcing New Orleans to suspend emergency medical services as the storm crawled northwest at 13 miles per hour (21 km per hour).
Hundreds of miles of new levees were built around New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina, which made landfall 16 years ago to the day, inundating historically Black neighborhoods and killing more than 1,800 people.
“This is one of the strongest storms to make landfall here in modern times,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said at a news briefing.
The state “has never been more prepared,” he said, predicting that no levees in the Hurricane & Storm Damage Risk Reduction System protecting the greater New Orleans area would be overtopped.
“Will it be tested? Yes. But it was built for this moment,” he said. Edwards said some levees in the state’s southeast not built by the federal government were predicted to overtop.
Just three days after emerging as a tropical storm in the Caribbean Sea, Ida had swelled into a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale with top sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (240 km per hour), the NHC said.
Predicted storm surges were already happening, exceeding 6 feet (1.83 m) in some parts of the coast. Parts of Highway 90 that runs along the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast had become a choppy river, according to videos posted on social media.
“We’re as prepared as we can be, but we’re worried about those levees,” said Kirk Lepine, president of Plaquemines Parish on the state’s Gulf Coast.
Plaquemines, one of the most vulnerable parishes, is home to 23,000 people along the Mississippi delta. Lepine feared water topping levees along Highway 23.
“That’s our one road in and out,” he said.
Officials had ordered widespread evacuations of low-lying and coastal areas, jamming highways and leading some gasoline stations to run dry as residents and vacationers fled, although Edwards said it was impossible to evacuate patients from hospitals.
Some $14 billion was spent strengthening levees after Katrina, but that may still be insufficient in the face of climate change, he said. Climate change has led to more intense and wetter hurricanes in the region.
Port Fourchon is home to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the country’s largest privately owned crude oil terminal.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said 288 oil and gas platforms and 11 rigs in the U.S. Gulf were evacuated, while the volume of suspended oil production there rose to 96%. Almost 94% of Gulf of Mexico natural gas production was also out.
Phillips 66 shut its Alliance plant on the coast in Belle Chasse, while Exxon Mobil Corp cut production at its Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refinery on Saturday.
(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New Orleans, Jessica Resnick-Ault and Jonathan Allen in New York, Erwin Seba in Houston, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Linda So and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Liz Hampton in Denver, and Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru; Writing by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Caroline Stauffer, Leslie Adler, Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021
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