Hurricane Ida intensified into an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane as it made its way towards the U.S. Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Sunday.
With top sustained winds of 130 mph,Ida was located about 100 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River river, the NHC said in an advisory.
It said that Ida, which is expected to make landfall on Sunday, was now a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir Simpson scale, a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained wind speed.
The hurricane could bring a “life-threatening storm surge, potentially catastrophic wind damage and flooding rainfall” to the northern gulf coast starting Sunday morning, the NHC said.
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Lousiana’s Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday that Ida will be one of the strongest to hit the state since at least the 1850s. He said forecasters were “extremely confident in the current track and the intensity as forecasted for Hurricane Ida, and you don’t really hear them speaking very often about that level of confidence.”
With all Sunday flights canceled at the New Orleans Airport, tens of thousands of motorists have sought to flee the region, clogging highways.
As the city marks the 16-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, those remaining are bracing for the worst.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell told a new conference on Saturday that the hurricane had developed “more rapidly than anyone has prepared for and there are no indications at all that it will weaken.”
She said it was too late for the city to order a mandatory evacuation and called for residents to either evacuate the city voluntarily or shelter in place and “hunker down.”
President Joe Biden also told Louisiana residents to “pay attention and be prepared” in a statement posted on Twitter Saturday. He added that he had been briefed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on preparations for the storm.
“We have deployed emergency response personnel and pre-positioned food, water, generators, and supplies to make sure we’re ready to respond,” he said.
Biden has also warned that residents should remain vigilant in preventing the spread of coronavirus during the unfolding crisis. Louisiana is among the states with the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S.
“Make sure you wear a mask, and try to keep some distance, because we’re still facing a highly contagious delta variant as well,” Biden said.
Hospitals in New Orleans in city are in the midst of a “severe outbreak,” with a seven-day average of 220 new infections, according to the city’s Covid-19 dashboard, which was last updated Saturday.
Meanwhile, across Louisiana, more than 3,400 new cases were confirmed as of Friday, according to data published by the Louisiana Department of Health, with at least 2,684 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the state.