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Hurricane plunges New Orleans into darkness 16 years to the day since Katrina

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Ida – one of the strongest hurricanes in modern times – has battered Louisiana, leaving all of New Orleans without power.

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The hurricane ploughed into Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico as a fierce Category 4 storm, lashing the coast with 240km/h winds, torrential downpours and pounding surf that submerged much of the shoreline under several metres of water.

Power was knocked out on Sunday night to the entire New Orleans metropolitan area with the failure of all eight transmission lines that deliver electricity to Louisiana’s largest city, the utility company Entergy Louisiana reported.

One transmission tower collapsed into the Mississippi River, according to the Jefferson Parish Emergency Management Department.

Ida slammed ashore about noon near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, a hub of the Gulf’s offshore energy industry, blasting the coast with hurricane-force winds extending 80 km out from the eye of the storm. Landfall came 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic on record, struck the Gulf Coast.

On Sunday night, the sheriff’s office in Ascension Parish reported the first US fatality from the storm – a person killed by a fallen tree near Baton Rouge, the state capital.

Flash flooding was reported by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) across southeastern Louisiana.

The storm’s approach forced the suspension of emergency medical services in New Orleans and elsewhere across a state already reeling from a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections that has strained Louisiana’s healthcare system.

For an estimated 2450 COVID-19 patients hospitalised statewide, many in intensive care units, evacuation was not an option.

Officials of the US Army Corps of Engineers said they expected the city’s newly-reinforced levees to hold, though they said they said the flood walls could be overtopped in some places.

“This is one of the strongest storms to make landfall here in modern times,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said at a news briefing.

Hundreds of kilometres of new levees were built around New Orleans after flooding from Katrina inundated much of the low-lying city, especially historically black neighbourhoods. That monster storm claimed more than 1800 lives.

Edwards voiced confidence in the $14.5 billion in levee improvements since then, saying they were “built for this moment.”

Power outages were widespread in the first hours of the storm, with more than 800,000 Louisiana homes and businesses losing electricity by Sunday night, according to state utility Entergy Louisiana.

President Joe Biden said earlier that the federal government stood ready to “put the country’s full might” behind rescue and recovery efforts.

Just three days after emerging as a tropical storm in the Caribbean Sea, Ida had intensified into a Category 4 hurricane and swept ashore with top sustained winds of 240km/h, the NHC reported.

Within hours, as Ida crept closer to New Orleans, its sustained winds had diminished to 110 mph, ranking it as a Category 2 storm but still considered extremely dangerous, according to the NHC.]

Inundation from Ida’s storm surge – high surf driven by the hurricane’s winds – was reported to be exceeding predicted levels of 1.8m along parts of the coast.

The NHC also warned of potentially catastrophic wind damage and up to 60cm of rainfall in some areas.

Offshore energy operations in the region were at a virtual standstill. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said nearly 300 offshore oil and gas platforms were evacuated, cutting Gulf-based petroleum and natural gas production by 96 per cent and 94 per cent, respectively.

-Reuters

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