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Hurricane Ida Will Be 'Life-Altering Storm' For Louisiana, Officials Say; Mask Mandate Extended

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Paul Braun/WRKF
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Gov. John Bel Edwards briefs the media ahead of a hurricane. Oct. 9, 2020.

As Hurricane Ida gains strength faster than forecasters anticipated at a time when COVID cases and hospitalizations are the worst they’ve been since the pandemic, Gov. John Bel Edwards urged Louisianans to make final preparations and get out of the path of what is expected to be a Category 4 hurricane at landfall.

Edwards also announced that he will extend the current public health emergency, including his statewide mask mandate in all indoor settings. The previous order was set to expire Sept. 1.

“The next 24 hours are very, very important,” Edwards said. “By nightfall tomorrow, you need to be where you intend to ride out the storm.”

Benjamin Schott, meteorologist-in-charge for the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said Hurricane Ida defied forecasters’ expectations by developing into a Category 1 hurricane Friday afternoon as the system approached the coast of Cuba.

Schott said conditions between the storm’s current location and the Louisiana coast are “pristine” and the National Weather Service is “confident” that the storm will be a strong Category 4 when it makes landfall Sunday.

Hurricane Ida has the potential to bring winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and storm surge of 10 to 15 feet in some coastal areas, Schott said. Rainfall totals could exceed 10 to 15 inches over large portions of the state with pockets seeing as much as 20 inches of rain, increasing the risk of inland river flooding.

“This will be a life-altering storm for those who aren’t prepared for what Ida has to throw at us,” Schott said.

The storm is currently forecast to be stronger than Category 4 Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in southwest Louisiana one year ago as the strongest storm to impact the state since 1856. Ida is also expected to make landfall on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Edwards ordered the closure of state offices in 38 parishes ahead of the storm. As of Friday, local officials in Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines and Tangipahoa Parishes have issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.

That same afternoon, Orleans Parish officials issued a mandatory evacuation for New Orleans East and other communities outside the protection of the levee system.

The storm will arrive as Louisiana weathers the deadliest surge of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Dr. Joe Kanter, state health officer for the Louisiana Department of Health, said people evacuating ahead of the storm should adjust their plans to mitigate risk of contracting the coronavirus. He urged them to wear masks, observe social distancing in congregate settings and limit contact with individuals outside of their immediate family.

“There is a lot of COVID out there,” Kanter said. “The storm is not the only risk out there.”

On Friday, the Louisiana Department of Health announced that 2,684 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 — 300 fewer than a week ago.

Even still, Edwards said the high hospitalization numbers across the state will make it all but impossible to evacuate COVID wards directly in the storm’s path.

Edwards requested a pre-landfall federal disaster declaration from President Joe Biden Thursday night. Biden granted that request Friday.

The declaration will allow the state to bring to bear greater resources to prepare for the storm and respond in the immediate aftermath.

Deanne Criswell, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the agency has been in close contact with state officials since Tuesday and is partnering with state agencies to minimize the risk of COVID-19 as people seek shelter from the storm.

In addition to limiting the capacity of traditional large-scale shelters and providing personal protective equipment, state and federal partners will use hotel rooms to reduce evacuees' risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s my understanding that Louisiana may quickly move into putting people into hotels for non-congregate sheltering to help with their temporary housing until we can figure out what their long-term needs might be,” Criswell said.

Edwards ordered the cancellation of the New Orleans Saints preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. Friday morning the teams agreed to move up the kickoff to noon on Saturday, but as Hurricane Ida strengthened and evacuation efforts became more urgent, Edwards said it was unsafe to allow the game to take place.

Louisiana’s Preparation For Hurricane Ida By The Numbers:

  • 1,600 members of the Louisiana National Guard were preparing for Hurricane Ida as of Friday afternoon. Edwards has authorized Adjutant General Keith Waddell, head of the Louisiana National Guard, to activate the entirety of the guard — more than 5,000 soldiers.
  • 64 high water vehicles, 60 boats and 13 helicopters are staged across 13 parishes to conduct search and rescue operations in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
  • 5,000 utility workers are on hand in Louisiana and another 12,000 are standing by outside the state to restore power after the storm. 
  • FEMA will send nearly 150 medical personnel and 50 ambulances to the disaster area to assist hospitals. 
  • The state has provided 125 buses for evacuations. Most are concentrated in the Greater New Orleans area.
  • 2,684 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

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