Thousands flee…as Gulf Coast hurricane strengthens

Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the US state of Louisiana as Hurricane Ida closes in from the Gulf of Mexico.

Ida is now a category four hurricane, one below the highest level, with up to 150mph (240km/h) sustained winds.

It is expected to make landfall on Sunday, bringing a “life-threatening” storm surge. Ida is likely to be stronger than Hurricane Katrina, which devastated much of New Orleans in 2005.

Traffic jams clogged motorways as residents’ heeded orders to evacuate.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said “potentially catastrophic wind damage and flooding rainfall will impact portions of the northern Gulf coast beginning later this morning” (Sunday).

The current 150mph maximum sustained wind speed is only 7mph short of a category five hurricane. No category five has ever hit Louisiana.

Governor John Bel Edwards warned residents on Saturday: “Your window of time is closing. By the time you go to bed tonight you need to be where you intend to ride the storm out and you need to be as prepared as you can be, because weather will start to deteriorate very quickly tomorrow.”

The governor of neighbouring Mississippi has declared a state of emergency.

President Joe Biden said Ida was “turning into a very, very dangerous storm” and the federal government was ready to provide help.

The NHC said that, at 12:00 GMT on Sunday, Ida was about 50 miles south-west of the mouth of the Mississippi river and was moving north-west at about 15mph. While still over water, it has the capacity to strengthen even further.

Ida earlier battered part of Cuba, bringing down trees and tearing off roofs, while Jamaica suffered heavy rains. No-one was reported killed.

Sunday marks the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans after making landfall as a category three. Katrina flooded 80 per cent of the city and killed more than 1,800 people.

With stronger storm defences now in place, there’s hope that levees in New Orleans will be able to withstand the impact of the hurricane.

But experts warn that if storm surges hit at a time that coincides with high tides, sea water could flood the New Orleans levee system and enter the city again. -BBC

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