Hurricane Ida is one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the United States and it has now claimed its first victim. The storm has already caused power blackouts throughout New Orleans. Its 230 kilometers per hour (150 mph) winds have ripped the roofs off buildings and even caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards.
The first death was reported in Prairieville, a suburb of Baton Rouge, and is believed to have been caused by a fallen tree, according to the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office. Ida is the fifth strongest storm ever recorded to make landfall in the US, which it did on August 29, 16 years to the day Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Louisiana and Mississippi, did the same.
Ida arrived as a category 4 storm and has since been reduced to a category 2 with maximum winds of 165 kilometers per hour (105 mph) as it moves inland. While not as strong as Katrina, which was a category 5 storm, Ida's storm surge (the rise in the ocean level generated by a storm) is expected to still be extremely dangerous at 4.5 meters (15 feet), warns the National Hurricane Center.
Ida is a true test of the hurricane protections put in place in Louisiana after Katrina. Back in 2005 the levees failed, contributing to the 1,836 deaths and $125 billion dollars of damages. So far, fortunately, the levees are holding.
“There’s been tremendous investment in this system since Hurricane Katrina. This will be the most severe test of that system. But we believe that system is going to hold, the entire integrity of that system will be able to withstand the storm surge,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told CNN.
Currently, due to power blackouts for around 1 million people, the power in New Orleans is coming from generators in the city. Power is vital for hospitals, already under strain from COVID-19, and also for the pumps to remove water from the streets. With a heavy rainfall expected, this will probably be crucial.
It took just three days for Hurricane Ida to go from a few thunderstorms to a massive hurricane, leaving no time to organize a mandatory evacuation of the city. The US hurricane season is arriving earlier and lasting longer than ever, with stronger and more unpredictable storms. Climate change is exacerbating the storms, but this also makes it more difficult to predict them.
The Gulf of Mexico is now several degrees hotter on average than it was just a couple of decades ago. This increase in heat from the water makes storms more powerful. Hotter air also holds more moisture leading to more precipitation during the storm.
Ahead of Ida's arrival, President Biden approved the Louisiana Emergency Declaration stating that the country’s full might will be behind any rescue and recovery.