Hurricane Ida rapidly grew in strength early Sunday, becoming a dangerous Category 4 hurricane just hours before hitting the Louisiana coast as emergency officials in the region grappled with opening shelters for displaced evacuees amid the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
As Ida moved through some of the warmest ocean water in the world in the northern Gulf of Mexico, its top winds grew by 45 mph to 150 mph in five hours. The system was expected to make landfall early Sunday afternoon on the exact date Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi 16 years earlier.
The National Hurricane Center said Ida was expected to maintain its strength just 6 mph shy of a Category 5 hurricane until landfall. Only four Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in the United States: Michael in 2018, Andrew in 1992, Camille in 1969 and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. Both Michael and Andrew were upgraded to category 5 long after the storm hit with further review of damage.
Ida threatened a region already reeling from a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, due to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant.
New Orleans hospitals planned to ride out the storm with their beds nearly full, as similarly stressed hospitals elsewhere had little room for evacuated patients. And shelters for those fleeing their homes carried an added risk of becoming flashpoints for new infections.
Long lines at gas stations as residents of South Louisiana prepare for Hurricane Ida. (Aug. 28)Hurricane force winds started to strike Grand Isle on Sunday morning. Before power was lost on the Louisiana barrier island, a beachfront web camera showed the ocean steadily rising as growing waves churned and palm trees whipped.
Forecasters warned winds stronger than 115 mph were expected soon in Houma, a city of 33,000 that supports oil platforms in the Gulf.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.