Powerful Hurricane Ida battered the southern US state of Louisiana and plunged New Orleans into darkness Sunday, leaving at least one person dead 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm but had weakened to a Category 1 by early Monday.
The storm knocked out power for all of New Orleans, with more than a million customers across Louisiana without power, according to outage tracker PowerOutage.US.
“We have now lost power, citywide! This is the time to continue to remain in your safe places. It isn’t a time to venture out!!” New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Twitter.
Electricity provider Entergy said it was providing back up power to New Orleans Sewage and Water Board, which operates the pumping stations used to control flooding.
The National Weather Service issued warnings of storm surges and flash floods for several areas, including the town of Jean Lafitte, just south of New Orleans, where mayor Tim Kerner said the levees had been breached by rapidly rising waters.
“Total devastation, catastrophic, our town levees have been overtopped,” Kerner told ABC-affiliate WGNO.
“We have anywhere between 75 to 200 people stranded in Barataria,” after a barge took out the swing bridge to the island.
“The winds are still too strong, we can’t put boats in the water to get to them,” he told WGNO.
“We have a small group trying to take out the people in the most imminent danger,” Kerner said. “This is a very dangerous situation. I’ve never seen so much water in my life.”
President Joe Biden, who described Ida as “a life-threatening storm,” declared a major disaster for Louisiana, which gives it access to federal aid.
One person was killed by a falling tree in Prairieville, 60 miles northwest of New Orleans, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office said.
Throughout the morning showers and strong wind swept the city’s deserted streets, buffeting boarded-up windows at businesses and homes surrounded by sandbags.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Ida could be the most powerful storm to hit the state since 1850.
“There is no doubt that the coming days and weeks are going to be extremely difficult,” he said at a briefing Sunday, adding that some people might have to shelter in place for up to 72 hours.
“Find the safest place in your house and stay there until the storm passes,” he tweeted earlier.
Local authorities, the Red Cross, and other organizations have prepared dozens of shelters with room for at least 16,000 people, the White House added.
Scientists have warned of a rise in cyclone activity as the ocean surface warms due to climate change, posing an increasing threat to the world’s coastal communities.