Sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico and making landfall on August 29, Hurricane Ida has plunged the city of New Orleans into darkness and uncertainty – bringing the nightmare of Katrina back into national memory.
Shifting torrential rains and destructive winds overnight, Ida toppled power lines and submerged Louisiana’s southern coastline under several feet of flooding. Over a million homes and businesses have lost electricity according to tracking platform Poweroutage.US, whilst the hurricane’s 150 mph winds tie it for the fifth strongest to ever hit the United States mainland. The hurricane was so strong that, like Katrina, it reversed the flow of the Mississippi river.
The National Hurricane Center reported flash flooding across Southeastern Louisiana, and utility company Entergy Louisiana has reported that all eight of New Orleans’ transmission lines have been knocked out. One transmission tower has also reportedly collapsed into the Mississippi River.
A resurgence in COVID-19 cases, primarily due to low vaccination rates, in recent weeks has overwhelmed Louisiana’s healthcare system and left approximately 2,450 people hospitalised. As Ida destroyed much of Louisiana’s power, numerous hospitals are being forced to rely on generators to keep patients alive.
“Hurricane Ida is here.” Collin Arnold, Director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said on Sunday, just before the storm made landfall with winds stronger than Katrina.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) August 29, 2021
So far, the hurricane has been directly blamed for one death after an unnamed man was killed by a falling tree in Baton Rouge, although the National Hurricane Center has warned that continuous expected heavy downpours remain “likely to result in life threatening flooding.”
US President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Louisiana on August 29, mandating federal assistance for recovery efforts across the state. Whilst significant flooding was reported in numerous southern regions of Louisiana, the state’s governor John Bel Edwards warned at a news conference that rescue teams would be unable to immediately help stranded residents that decided to wait out the storm instead of evacuating.
“Many, many people are going to be tested in ways that we can only imagine today”, said Bel Edwards.
The Governor cautioned at the briefing that the state should brace for several weeks of recovery efforts after Ida dissipates, as millions of meals and liters of water have been procured by officials in anticipation of weeks-long power outages.
I have received word tonight that @POTUS has approved my request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration due to the severe impacts of #HurricaneIda. I am extremely grateful to Pres. Biden for his swift response to my request. 📄 https://t.co/vCFzXHaoSR. #lagov #lawx #Ida
— John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov) August 30, 2021
As Ida ripped through the Gulf of Mexico, nearly all offshore oil production was halted and all major ports were closed along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.
Although initially registered as a Category 4 storm, the hurricane was reduced to a Category 1 on the five-level Simpson scale as it moved inland, with winds lowering to 85 mph after pushing past New Orleans.
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Ida’s arrival coincided with 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The disaster devastated the city of New Orleans, exposing bureaucratic incompetence and miscommunication at multiple levels of government whilst raising serious questions over clearly inadequate extreme weather response procedures.
However, whilst the saga of Hurricane Ida is in its early stages and its full effects remain to be seen, there are hopeful signs that the US government has learned its lessons from 2005.
Following the havoc Katrina wreaked upon New Orleans, which caused the deaths of over 1,800 people and resulted in over $100 billion in damages, $14.5 billion was subsequently spent on updating the city’s flood protection levees.
Hurricane Ida provides the new levee system its first major test, but authorities appear to have confidence that the 350-mile defensive ring around the city will hold up against the hurricane.
Kelli Chandler, regional director of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority, the institute that oversees the system, said in a report by Reuters that the “levee system and the flood system today is much, much better and much, much stronger than it was in Katrina,” adding that “we don’t anticipate a breach.”
Bel Edwards echoed this message during his August 29 briefing. Describing the flood protection system as “built for this moment”, the governor stated that “all the models that we’ve seen from the Army Corps of Engineers and from our own CPRA (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority) show that hurricane storm damage risk reduction system will hold and perform as intended.”
Despite the shows of confidence that America will not witness anything like the devastation caused by Katrina, where over 80% of New Orleans was underwater at its peak, Ida still poses a significant risk to the state and will require a substantial response effort.
Hours after attending a service honouring the return of 13 American servicemen killed in an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Biden traveled to FEMA headquarters to oversee response efforts for the hurricane. Biden stated that he could not remember a time when communication between the federal and state levels of government had been more closely coordinated, raising confidence that response to Ida will not mirror the disaster of 16 years ago.
The embattled president has experienced weeks of criticisms and condemnation over the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but says that he will put the federal government’s “full might behind the rescue and recovery” of the aftermath of the hurricane. Learning the lessons from Katrina will be paramount to avoiding unnecessarily lost lives like in 2005, whilst averting a further misstep for the President.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: A Satellite View of a Hurricane. Featured Photo Credit: Pixabay.