Hurricane Ida was rapidly intensifying early Sunday, becoming a dangerous Category 4 hurricane on track for a potentially devastating landfall on the Louisiana coast while emergency officials in the region grappled with opening shelters for displaced evacuees despite the risks of spreading the coronavirus.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Ida would become an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph (209 kph) winds — that happened early Sunday ahead of an expected afternoon landfall. The storm arrived on the exact date Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi 16 years earlier.
Ida was a Category 4 hurricane Sunday morning with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. The storm was centred about 175 miles (280 kilometres) southeast of coastal Houma, Louisiana, and was travelling northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).
The storm threatened a region already reeling from a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, thanks to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant.
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.
Gov. John Bel Edwards vowed Saturday that Louisiana’s “resilient and tough people” would weather the storm. He also noted shelters would operate with reduced capacities “to reflect the realities of COVID.”
Edwards said Louisiana officials were already working to find hotel rooms for many evacuees so that fewer had to stay in mass shelters. He noted that during last year’s hurricane season, Louisiana found rooms for 20,000 people.
“So, we know how to do this,” Edwards said. “I hope and pray we don’t have to do it anywhere near that extent.”
In coastal Gulfport, Mississippi, a Red Cross shelter posted signs displaying directions for evacuees along with warnings about COVID-19. With skies still sunny, only a handful of people had shown up Saturday evening.