NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Ida stoked fear and dread in Louisiana on Sunday as the approaching storm threatened to grow into one of the most powerful systems to assault the region since Hurricane Katrina, forcing residents to flee or hunker down as the storm quickly intensified to a Category 4 overnight and forecasters warned it had New Orleans in its projected path.
The trajectory and strength of Ida will serve as a high-stakes test of the 350 miles of levees, flood walls, pumps and gates that were built up around the city as added storm protection after Katrina in 2005. Ida has also raised concerns about hospitals, which were overwhelmed by water and patients during Katrina and are already strained by the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ida is expected to arrive on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Katrina, stirring painful reminders of the death and devastation it wrought and the psychological scars that still run deep in the city. That storm killed 1,833 people, inflicted more than $100 billion in damage, and submerged large swaths of New Orleans, leading to scenes of suffering that horrified the nation.
“It’s definitely triggering to even have to think about this,” said Victor Pizarro, a health advocate and a resident of New Orleans who planned to ride out the storm with his husband in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood. “It’s exhausting to be a New Orleanian and a Louisianian at this point.”
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina more than $14 billion was spent on the reconstruction of the area’s levee system. Levees, including those that failed during Katrina, were armored with concrete.
Though the city was rebuilt to defend against a “100-year-storm,” or a storm that has a 1 percent chance of happening every year, local and state officials have said over the years that 100-year-protection isn’t enough at a time when weather events like hurricanes are intensifying and sea levels are on the rise.
Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana described Ida’s potential impact as historical. “We can sum it up by saying this will be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit anywhere in Louisiana since at least the 1850s,” he said on Saturday.
Ida, the first major storm to strike the Gulf Coast during the 2021 hurricane season, strengthened quickly in large part because, as is normal near the end of summer, the Gulf is very warm, and warmer water provides more energy to the storm. But research over the past decade suggests that climate change also plays a role. Studies have found that rapid intensification of hurricanes is also increasing because the oceans are warming as a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases. Overnight on Saturday night, the storm first intensified to a Category 3, followed quickly by another upgrade to Category 4 an hour later.
The storm threatens a state already imperiled by a different kind of disaster, as hospitals have been inundated by a surge in coronavirus cases. Daily deaths from Covid-19 reached their highest levels in Louisiana last week, forcing stretched hospitals to modify the intense preparations they would normally make ahead of an expected hurricane strike.
The governor said officials had asked hospitals to check generators and stockpile more water, oxygen and personal protective supplies than usual for a storm. The implications of a strike from a Category 4 hurricane while hospitals were full were “beyond what our normal plans are,” he added.
The decision to stay or go was made for some area residents on Friday when New Orleans city officials issued mandatory evacuations for residents living outside the levee system, echoing similar mandates for neighboring parishes. For those inside the levees, evacuations were voluntary.
The Rev. Willie L. Calhoun, Jr., who lives in the Lower Ninth Ward, a New Orleans neighborhood that was ravaged by Katrina, had hoped to take part in a 16th anniversary commemoration Sunday, with a high school marching band and a theme, he said, of “healing, unifying and strengthening our communities.” Instead, on Saturday afternoon, he was in his Lincoln Continental on the verge of getting out of town.
Sheri Fink,Henry Fountain, Tariro Mzezewa and Katy Reckdahl contributed reporting.
NEW ORLEANS — With Hurricane Ida likely to bring powerful winds and heavy rain to their city, residents of New Orleans faced a familiar choice: flee or hunker down for the duration.
The storm was expected to make landfall by Sunday afternoon or evening and officials urged people who intended to evacuate to do so by Saturday. Residents came to a variety of decisions on the matter.
Lacy Duhe, 39, and Jeremy Housely, 42, opted to hunker down in their second-story apartment on Deslonde Street in New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward. If they evacuated and ended up in a shelter, they said, they worried about the risk of their unvaccinated children contracting Covid-19. They also had just paid their monthly bills and could not afford to go anywhere.
“It feels serious,” said the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Ja-nyi. “I wasn’t born during Katrina time. But I know it knocked down a lot of places.”
Mary Picot, 71, walked out the door on Saturday afternoon carrying bags of snacks and medicine. She wasn’t worried about flooding and believed the levees would hold. It was the threat of power outages that convinced her to leave.
“My husband is diabetic,” she said. “We have to keep his medicine cold.”
Donald Lyons, 38, was packing up a silver Nissan sedan Saturday afternoon under a cloud-filled sky in Hollygrove, one of the traditionally Black working class neighborhoods that flooded badly when Katrina hit. The car, carrying his wife, three children and mother-in-law, was full of bags and bedding. They were heading to Sugar Land, Texas, 27 miles southwest of Houston, where they had family that had left after Katrina, 16 years ago, and never come back.
“I’m just trying to get somewhere safe,” Mr. Lyons said.
Down the block, Barbara Butler, 65, a housekeeper, said she thought the city was safer now with all of the new flood protection. She intended to ride out the storm at home.
“It gave us some relief,” she said. “It’s better than no relief.”
She was sitting on the porch with her husband, Curtis Duck, 63, and her brother, Ray Thomas, in a house that Ms. Butler said was flooded with eight feet of water after Katrina.
Mr. Duck said he was sick of evacuating time and again.
“We listen to the news,” he said. “People telling us to go, go, go.”
Victor Pizarro, a health advocate, and his husband decided to ride out the storm in their home in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood, although they said they would leave town if they lost power for an extended period.
“It’s definitely triggering to even have to think about this and make these decisions,” Mr. Pizarro said in a telephone interview while he drove across town in search of a spare part for his generator. “It’s exhausting to be a New Orleanian and a Louisianian at this point.”
Andy Horowitz and his family decided to vacate their home in the Algiers Point neighborhood, which sits directly across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter. Mr. Horowitz is the author of “Katrina: A History, 1915-2015,” and he is among those scholars and Louisiana residents who fear that the city’s new flood protection system, as massive as it is, may prove to be inadequate for a sinking city in the likely path of more frequent and powerful storms in the age of climate change.
“Every summer, New Orleans plays a game of Russian roulette, and every summer we pull the trigger,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Hurricane Ida is expected to make landfall Sunday, threatening to bring dangerous wind, storm surge and rain to the Gulf Coast exactly 16 years after the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most costly natural disasters in American history, which left more than 1,800 dead and produced more than $100 billion in damages.
The overall impact of storm surge from Ida is predicted to be less severe than during Katrina. Because that storm began as a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico before weakening as it approached landfall, it generated enormous storm surge, which brought over 20 feet of water to parts of the Mississippi coast. Current projections put the storm surge of Ida at 10 to 15 feet.
“Fifteen-foot sure can do a lot of damage,” said Barry Keim, a professor at Louisiana State University and Louisiana State Climatologist. “But it’s going to be nothing in comparison with Katrina’s surge.”
Improvements to the levee system following Katrina have better prepared the New Orleans metro area for the storm surge.
However, the areas likely to receive the most severe surge from Ida may be less equipped to handle it than the area hit by Katrina, said Dr. Keim.
Ida is expected to make landfall to the west of where Katrina struck, bringing the most severe storm surge impacts to the Louisiana coast west of the Mississippi River rather than east of the river along coastal Mississippi, as Katrina did.
“We are testing a different part of the flood protection in and around southeast Louisiana than we did in Katrina,” said Dr. Keim. “Some of the weak links in this area maybe haven’t been quite as exposed.”
While the impacts of Ida’s storm surge are expected to be less severe than Katrina’s, Ida’s winds and rain are predicted to exceed those that pummeled the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Ida is expected to make landfall on the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm with peak winds of 130 mph, while Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 with peak winds of 125 mph.
“It could be quite devastating — especially some of those high rise buildings are just not rated to sustain that wind load,” said Jamie Rhome, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.
The severe damage from Hurricane Laura, which struck southwest Louisiana last year as a Category 4 storm, was caused primarily by high winds peaking at 150 mph. The storm caused 42 deaths and damage costing more than $19 billion.
Ida’s rainfall also threatens to exceed Katrina’s highs.
The National Hurricane Center estimates that Ida will drench the Gulf Coast with 8 to 16 inches of rain and perhaps as much as 20 inches in some places. Katrina brought 5-10 inches of rain with more than 12 inches in the most impacted areas.
“That is a lot of rainfall,” said Mr. Rhome. “Absolutely the flash flood potential in this case is high, very high.” Especially combined with storm surge, he said, such intense levels of rainfall could have a “huge and devastating impact to those local communities.”
Hurricane Ida threatens to be the first major storm to strike the Gulf Coast during the 2021 season, hitting a region in many ways still grappling with the physical and emotional toll of a punishing run of hurricanes last year.
The Atlantic hurricane season of 2020 was the busiest on record, with 30 named storms, 13 of which reached hurricane strength. There were so many storms that forecasters ran through the alphabet and had to take the rare step of calling storms by Greek letters.
Louisiana was dealt the harshest blow, barraged repeatedly by storms, including Hurricane Laura, which was one of the most powerful to hit the state, trailed six weeks later by Delta, which was weaker than Laura but followed a nearly identical path, inflicting considerable pain on communities still gripped by the devastation from the earlier storm.
The state is still struggling to claw its way back. Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said the state had $3 billion in unmet recovery needs. In Lake Charles, which was ravaged by direct hits from both hurricanes followed by a deadly winter storm and flooding in May, local officials recently renewed a plea for federal aid as the city has failed to regain its footing; much of it has yet to recover and many residents, unable to find adequate or affordable housing, have fled.
The looming impact of Ida underscores the persisting danger imperiling coastal communities as a changing climate stands to intensify the destructive force of the storms that have always been a seasonal part of life.
President Biden cited the growing danger in May when he announced a significant increase in funding to build and bolster infrastructure in communities most likely to face the wrath of extreme weather.