Gulf Coast residents in Hurricane Ida’s path were urged early Saturday to get out as soon as they can, as the massive storm steams toward New Orleans.
“Ida expected to rapidly intensify as it moves over the Southeastern and Central Gulf of Mexico through tonight,” the National Hurricane warned. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion today.”
The National Weather Service office in New Orleans was more blunt in a tweet: “If you plan to leave do so as SOON as you can. Finish up all last minute prep ASAP.”
Hurricane warnings and watches are up from the western edge of the Florida panhandle all the way to the Texas border, but the storm appears to be barreling straight toward New Orleans, where it could make landfall late Sunday — the 16th anniversary of the deadly Hurricane Katrina.
Ida was a Category 1 storm when it hit Cuba Friday and is expected to explosively strengthen as it charges through the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters. It was about 440 miles southeast of New Orleans early Saturday, moving at a 16 mph clip.
“Rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 24 to 36 hours and Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it approaches the northern Gulf coast on Sunday,” the latest National Hurricane Center forecast said.
A “major” hurricane is a Category 3 or higher. Predictions say Ida could reach Category 4 strength — with winds ranging from 130 to 156 mph.
The agency is warning of “potentially catastrophic wind damage” once Ida moves onshore, but it’s also focused on what it called “extremely life-threatening storm surge” including inundation of 10 to 15 feet above ground level from Morgan City, Louisiana, about 85 miles west of New Orleans, to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi coast could see up to 11 feet of storm surge, while much of the coast to the Florida border could see up to 5 feet.
In addition, Ida could bring up 8 to 16 inches of rain to parts of Louisiana and Southern Mississippi, adding to the flooding dangers.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the National Hurricane Center said.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for multiple counties in Louisiana and Mississippi.
“We are the bullseye by every indication, of everything we have found,” warned Gordon Dove, president of Terrebonne Parish southwest of New Orleans, according to local CBS affiliate WWL4, who said the storm will test the county’s new levee system.
“We worked 17 years building a levee system, so we believe we should hopefully stop most of the water coming this way,” Dove said.
Rain expected for Saturday from a different storm could make preparations for Ida even more complicated, NOLA.com reported.