As predicted, Hurricane Ida has strengthened to a devastating category 4 storm as it makes its inevitable march toward the Gulf Coast early Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall. Per CNN, the storm now has sustained winds of 150mph, which puts it just under a catastrophic category 5 hurricane. Nonetheless, weather watchers and politicians are all saying the same thing: get out now or risk dying. The dire warnings include possible tornadoes in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi; wind gusts capable of annihilating homes; and a storm surge forecasted to be 10 to 15 feet at its most extreme points from Morgan City, Louisiana to the mouth of the Mississippi.
The storm surge is a particular source of concern for officials, who did not mince words Sunday. "I want to reiterate the storm surge that we are expecting is unsurvivable," Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said at a news conference Sunday, per WGNO. "We need you to leave immediately." It's anticipated the surge will most directly affect those outside the New Orleans levee protection system, where flash flooding will be most intense. Should the storm hit land with its current sustained wind speeds, it would tie the two strongest hurricanes to ever hit Louisiana--Laura from last year and another that struck way back in 1856.
As many residents fled, Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Saturday that those who stay should not expect help to come soon after the storm passes. "We say the first 72 (hours) is on you," he told CNN, urging those who stay to stock up on food and supplies. "The first three days of this will be difficult for responders to get to you." Meanwhile, as the pandemic rages on, others have no choice but to stay. With COVID cases surging in the region, hospitals will not evacuate. They have, instead, contingency plans in place that include increased staffing and extra supplies, per NBC News. (Read more Hurricane Ida stories.)