Hurricane Ida strengthens into ‘extremely dangerous’ Category 4 storm ahead of landfall on US Gulf Coast

Hurricane Ida, set to hit the Gulf Coast on Sunday, has been upgraded to an ‘extremely dangerous’ Category 4 storm, as sustained wind speeds reached 150mph (241kph), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has said.

The storm is expected to make landfall in southeastern Louisiana in the afternoon, with strong winds and rainfall already reported in the Bayou State. Its arrival coincides with the 16th anniversary of devastating Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people and caused damage of around $ 125 billion in New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005.

Ida has rapidly intensified, exceeding all forecasts, since striking Cuba on Friday, with the hurricane gaining an extra 35mph of speed in just six hours, the NHC said. According to satellite images, further strengthening is imminent, it added.

The hurricane could bring life-threatening storm surge, potentially catastrophic wind damage, and flooding rainfall, the NHC warned. There’s a risk it could plunge much of the Louisiana coastline underwater, with Mississippi and Alabama also under threat.

Schools and businesses, including casinos, have been closed across Louisiana, with residents of low-lying areas told to evacuate quickly. There have been massive traffic jams and reports of gas stations running out of fuel as numerous people flee the area. Flights in and out of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport were canceled on Sunday.

Those opting to stay in their homes were advised to stock up on food and water for at least three days, as it could be difficult for rescuers to reach people in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Ida could be the state’s worst direct hit by a storm since the 1850s.

The situation has also been complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Governor Edwards said “the implications of having a Category 4 storm while hospitals are full are beyond what we normally contemplate.” However, there have been no plans to evacuate any hospitals.

With sustained wind speeds reaching up to 150mph, Ida needs to intensify by just 7mph to reach the highest category (5) on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS).

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