Just weeks before Hurricane Ida knocked out power to much of Louisiana, leaving its residents exposed to extreme heat and humidity, the chief executive of Entergy, the state’s biggest utility company, told Wall Street that it had been upgrading power lines and equipment to withstand big storms.
“Building greater resiliency into our system is an ongoing focus,” the executive, Leo P. Denault, told financial analysts on a conference call on Aug. 4, adding that Entergy was replacing its towers and poles with equipment “able to handle higher wind loading and flood levels.”
Mr. Denault’s statements would soon be tested harshly. On the last Sunday in August, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana and dealt a catastrophic blow to Entergy’s power lines, towers and poles, many of which were built decades ago to withstand much weaker hurricanes. The company had not upgraded or replaced a lot of that equipment with more modern gear designed to survive the 150 mile-an-hour wind gusts that Ida brought to bear on the state.
A hurricane like Ida would have been a challenge to any power system built over many decades that contains a mix of dated and new equipment. But some energy experts said Entergy was clearly unprepared for the Category 4 storm despite what executives have said about efforts to strengthen its network.
a Category 2 storm, according to an analysis of regulatory filing and other company records by McCullough Research, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore., that advises power companies and government agencies.
Entergy said that analysis was inaccurate but wouldn’t say how many of its transmission structures were built to withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds. The company has said that its towers met the safety standards in place at the time of installation but older standards often assumed wind speeds well below 150 m.p.h.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional group whose guidelines are widely followed by utilities and other industries, recommends that power companies that operate in areas vulnerable to hurricanes install equipment that can withstand major storms and return service quickly when systems fail. In coastal areas of Louisiana, for example, it says large transmission equipment should be designed to withstand winds of 150 m.p.h.
growing ferocity of hurricanes. The company says it had acted with alacrity. Its critics contend that it dragged its feet.
to restart a $210 million natural gas-fired plant the company opened in New Orleans last year that it said would provide power during periods of high demand, including after storms. But energy experts say it is a lot more concerning that so many of the company’s lines went down — and did so for the second year in a row.
Last year, Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, destroyed and damaged hundreds of Entergy’s towers and poles in Southwestern Louisiana. In April, Entergy told the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates its operations outside New Orleans, that the company had strengthened its equipment, including the installation of stronger distribution poles in coastal areas particularly vulnerable to high winds.
Michelle P. Bourg, who is responsible for transmission at Entergy’s Louisiana operations, told regulators that because it was too expensive to make the entire network resilient, Entergy pursued “targeted programs that cost effectively reduce the risks to reliability.”
In a statement, Entergy said its spending on transmission was working, noting that Ida destroyed or damaged 508 transmission structures, compared with 1,909 during Laura and 1,003 in Katrina. The company added that its annual investment in transmission in Louisiana and New Orleans has increased over the last eight years and totaled $926 million in 2020, when it spent extensively on repairs after Laura. The company spent $471 million on transmission in 2019.
“The facts of this storm support that we have made substantial progress in terms of resiliency since the storms that hit our system in the early 2000s — both generally and with respect to transmission in particular,” said Jerry Nappi, an Entergy spokesman.
The company declined to provide the age of damaged or destroyed transmission structures and an age range for the damaged distribution poles and equipment. Mr. Nappi acknowledged that distribution poles suffered widespread destruction and were not built to withstand winds of 130 to 150 m.p.h.
“Substantial additional investment will be required to mitigate hardship and avoid lengthy outages as increasingly powerful storms hit with increasing frequency,” he said in an email. “We are pursuing much-needed federal support for the additional hardening needed without compromising the affordability of electricity on which our customers and communities depend.”
The company’s plea for more help comes as President Biden is pushing to upgrade and expand the nation’s electricity system to address climate change as well as to harden equipment against disasters. Part of his plan includes spending tens of billions of dollars on transmission lines. Mr. Biden also wants to provide incentives for clean energy sources like solar and wind power and batteries — the kinds of improvements that community leaders in New Orleans had sought for years and that Entergy has often pushed back on.
Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council, said she opposed the construction of the new natural gas plant, which was located in a low-lying area near neighborhoods made up mostly of African Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Instead, she pushed for upgrades to the transmission and distribution system and more investment in solar power and batteries. The council ultimately approved Entergy’s plans for the plant over her objections.
“One of the things we argued about was that they should be upgrading transmission lines rather than building a peaking plant,” Ms. Guidry said.
In addition, she said, she called for the company to replace the wooden poles in neighborhoods with those built with stronger materials.
Robert McCullough, principal of McCullough Research, said it was hard to understand why Entergy had not upgraded towers and poles more quickly.
“Wood poles no longer have the expected lifetime in the face of climate change,” he said. “Given the repeated failures, it is going to be cost-effective to replace them with more durable options that can survive repeated Category 4 storms — including going to metal poles in many circumstances.”
Had Entergy invested more in its transmission and distribution lines and solar panels and battery systems, some green energy activists argued, the city and state would not have suffered as widespread and as long a power outage as it did after Ida.
“Entergy Louisiana needs to be held accountable for this,” said one of those activists, Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Clean Energy.
Entergy has argued that the natural gas plant was a much more affordable and reliable option for providing electricity during periods of high demand than solar panels and batteries.
Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Biden’s energy secretary, said that Ida highlighted the need for a big investment in electric grids. That might include putting more power lines serving homes and businesses under ground. Burying wires would protect them from winds, though it could make it harder to access the lines during floods.
“Clearly, as New Orleans builds back, it really does have to build back better in some areas,” Ms. Granholm said in an interview this month.
Mr. Nappi, the Entergy spokesman, said that distribution lines in some parts of New Orleans and elsewhere are already underground but that burying more of them would be expensive. “Distribution assets can be made to withstand extreme winds, through engineering or under grounding, but at significant cost and disruption to customers and to the community,” he said.
Most of New Orleans went dark on Sunday after Hurricane Ida took out transmission lines and forced power plants offline. It was an all too familiar scene in a city that has often lost power during big storms.
But this was an outage that was never supposed to happen. The utility company Entergy opened a new natural gas power plant in the city last year, pledging that it would help keep the lights on — even during hot summer days and big storms. It was one of two natural gas plants commissioned in recent years in the New Orleans area, the other one hailed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last year as a “source of clean energy that gives our state a competitive advantage and helps our communities grow.”
The storm raises fresh questions about how well the energy industry has prepared for natural disasters, which many scientists believe are becoming more common because of climate change. This year, much of Texas was shrouded in darkness after a winter storm, and last summer officials in California ordered rolling blackouts during a heat wave.
More than a million residential and commercial customers in Louisiana were without power on Monday afternoon, and Entergy and other utilities serving the state said it would take days to assess the damage to their equipment and weeks to fully restore service across the state. One customer can be a family or a large business, so the number of people without power is most likely many times higher. In neighboring Mississippi, just under 100,000 customers were without power.
some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires.
impossible for Texas to import power by keeping the state grid largely isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight.
add more transmission lines to carry more solar and wind power from one region of the country to another. But some energy experts said the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters argues against a big investment in power lines and for greater investment in smaller-scale systems like rooftop solar panels and batteries. Because small systems are placed at many homes, businesses, schools and other buildings, some continue to function even when others are damaged, providing much-needed energy during and after disasters.
Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council who voted against the Entergy plant, said she had worried that a storm like Ida could wreak havoc on her city and its energy system. She had wanted the city and utility to consider other options. But she said her fellow Council members and the utility had ignored those warnings.
“They said that they had dealt with that problem,” Ms. Guidry said. “The bottom line is they should have instead been upgrading their transmission and investing in renewable energy.”
Numerous community groups and city leaders opposed the gas-fired power plant, which is just south of Interstate 10 and Lake Pontchartrain, bordering predominantly African American and Vietnamese American neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the City Council approved the plant, which began commercial operations in May 2020. It generates power mainly at times of peak demand.
About a year earlier, Entergy opened a larger gas power plant in nearby St. Charles Parish. Leo P. Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive, last year called that plant “a significant milestone along the clean energy journey we began more than 20 years ago.”
Some utilities have turned to burying transmission lines to protect them from strong winds and storms, but Mr. Gasteiger said that was expensive and could cause its own problems.
“Generally speaking, it’s not that the utilities are not willing to do it,” he said. “It’s that people aren’t willing to pay for it. Usually it’s a cost issue. And undergrounding can make it more difficult to locate and fix” problems.
Big changes to electric grids and power plants are likely to take years, but activists and residents of New Orleans say officials should explore solutions that can be rolled out more quickly, especially as tens of thousands of people face days or weeks without electricity. Some activists want officials to put a priority on investments in rooftop solar, batteries and microgrids, which can power homes and commercial buildings even when the larger grid goes down.
“We keep walking by the solutions to keep people safe in their homes,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer group based in New Orleans. “When these events happen, then we’re in crisis mode because instead we’re spending billions of dollars every year now to rebuild the same system that leaves people in the dark, in a dire situation.”
Some residents have already invested in small-scale energy systems for themselves. Julie Graybill and her husband, Bob Smith, installed solar panels and batteries at their New Orleans home after Hurricane Isaac blew through Louisiana in 2012. They lost power for five days after Isaac, at times going to their car for air-conditioning with their two older dogs, said Ms. Graybill, 67, who retired from the Tulane University School of Medicine.
“We would sit in the car about every hour,” she said. “My husband said, ‘We are never doing this again.’” Mr. Smith, 73, who is also retired, worked as an engineer at Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company.
The couple have set up a little power station on their porch so neighbors can charge their phones and other items. Only a few other homes on their street have solar panels, but no one else nearby has batteries, which can store the power that panels generate and dispense it when the grid goes down.
“We’re told we’re not going to have power for three weeks,” Ms. Graybill said. “The only people who have power are people with generators or solar panels. We lived through Katrina. This is not Katrina, so we’re lucky.”
saying local officials expected “the possibility of flooding and even spinoff tornadoes in portions of Alabama.” In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves also issued a state of emergency on Saturday, allowing for the use of state resources for response and recovery.
Research over the past decade has found that, on average, such rapid intensification of hurricanes is increasing, in part because the oceans, which provide the energy for hurricanes, are getting warmer as a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.But Ida will also strengthen quickly because the Gulf, as is usual at the end of the summer, is very warm.
The hurricane center defines rapid intensification as at least a 35-m.p.h. increase in sustained winds over 24 hours. In the extremely active 2020 season, Hurricane Laura intensified by 45 m.p.h. in the 24 hours before making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in late August.
The National Hurricane Center said Ida was likely to produce heavy rainfall late Sunday into Monday from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama. Tropical storm force winds will arrive along the coast as early as Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service, before the storm makes landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening. After moving inland, the storm could contribute to flooding in Tennessee, where flash flooding killed 20 people last weekend.
“Based upon current track and strength of Ida, this storm will test our hurricane protection systems in a way they haven’t been tested before,” Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor of Louisiana for coastal activities, said on Twitter. “It’s times like these that remind us of the importance of continuing to protect south Louisiana.”
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the location of Tropical Storm Ida. It was in the Caribbean Sea early Friday, not the Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricane Ida will produce “life-threatening” weather conditions in Louisiana and batter parts of Mississippi, the National Weather Service said, urging people to evacuate inland.
Here is a breakdown of how various parts of the region could be affected when the hurricane makes landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening , according to the Weather Service.
Baton Rouge, La.
River Parishes and Northshore in Louisiana
Residents in the metro area can expect winds of 110 m.p.h. and, potentially, more than 20 inches of rain.
Inundation could reach as high as 11 feet. Residents can also expect winds of 74 m.p.h. and up to 12 inches of rain.
Tornadoes are possible in all of these areas, the Weather Service said.
Hurricane Ida is expected to make landfall Sunday, threatening to bring dangerous wind, storm surge and rain to the Gulf Coast exactly 16 years after the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most costly natural disasters in American history, which left more than 1,800 dead and produced more than $100 billion in damages.
The overall impact of storm surge from Ida is predicted to be less severe than during Katrina. Because that storm began as a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico before weakening as it approached landfall, it generated enormous storm surge, which brought over 20 feet of water to parts of the Mississippi coast. Current projections put the storm surge of Ida at 10 to 15 feet.
“Fifteen-foot sure can do a lot of damage,” said Barry Keim, a professor at Louisiana State University and Louisiana State Climatologist. “But it’s going to be nothing in comparison with Katrina’s surge.”
Improvements to the levee system following Katrina have better prepared the New Orleans metro area for the storm surge.
However, the areas likely to receive the most severe surge from Ida may be less equipped to handle it than the area hit by Katrina, said Dr. Keim.
Ida is expected to make landfall to the west of where Katrina struck, bringing the most severe storm surge impacts to the Louisiana coast west of the Mississippi River rather thaneast of the river along coastal Mississippi, as Katrina did.
“We are testing a different part of the flood protection in and around southeast Louisiana than we did in Katrina,” said Dr. Keim. “Some of the weak links in this area maybe haven’t been quite as exposed.”
While the impacts of Ida’s storm surge are expected to be less severe than Katrina’s, Ida’s winds and rain are predicted to exceed those that pummeled the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Ida is expected to make landfall on the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm with peak winds of 130 mph, while Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 with peak winds of 125 mph.
“It could be quite devastating — especially some of those high rise buildings are just not rated to sustain that wind load,” said Jamie Rhome, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.
The severe damage from Hurricane Laura, which struck southwest Louisiana last year as a Category 4 storm, was caused primarily by high winds peaking at 150 mph. The storm caused 42 deaths and damage costing more than $19 billion.
Ida’s rainfall also threatens to exceed Katrina’s highs.
The National Hurricane Center estimates that Ida will drench the Gulf Coast with 8 to 16 inches of rain and perhaps as much as 20 inches in some places. Katrina brought 5-10 inches of rain with more than 12 inches in the most impacted areas.
“That is a lot of rainfall,” said Mr. Rhome. “Absolutely the flash flood potential in this case is high, very high.” Especially combined with storm surge, he said, such intense levels of rainfall could have a “huge and devastating impact to those local communities.”
NEW ORLEANS — When a hurricane comes roaring toward New Orleans out of the Gulf of Mexico, there is a discernible mood shift on Bourbon Street, the city’s famed strip of iniquity and conspicuous alcohol consumption.
It goes from tawdry to tawdry with a hint of apocalypse. On Friday afternoon, the street was half alive. Daiquiri bars were open and daiquiri bars were boarded up. The doors to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club were locked. Nearby, a man lay on his back on the sidewalk, a plastic bag at his side, yelling the name “Laura.” Or maybe “Lord.”
Six happy women from New York ambled toward Canal Street in matching black T-shirts that said, “Birthday, beignets and booze.” The birthday girl declined to give her name. They went past the club called The Famous Door, where a listless bar band played “Fat Bottomed Girls.”
The riffs poured out into the street. A member of the birthday team raised a glass of something alcoholic and sugary and shouted out the chorus.
Another of the New York women, Jessika Edouard of Long Island, said that most of her group had been trying to get out of town before the storm’s arrival, to no avail. It was all cancellations and unresponsive airline customer service. “The flights are terrible,” she said.
What choice did they have but to keep the party going? Ms Edouard thought she and some of the others might be able to leave on Monday, after Ida hit.
In the meantime, she said, they had bought a ton of booze in the French Quarter. In the morning they had beignets. They had just met a crew from the Weather Channel. They seemed more excited than scared.
Ms. Edouard even had words for the storm, which she delivered like a threat from one pro wrestler to another.
“If Hurricane Ida thinks she is going to ruin my friend’s 30th birthday, then Ida has another thing coming,” she said.
NEW ORLEANS — With Hurricane Ida likely to bring powerful winds and heavy rain to their city, residents of New Orleans faced a familiar choice: flee or hunker down for the duration.
The storm was expected to make landfall by Sunday afternoon or evening and officials urged people who intended to evacuate to do so by Saturday. Residents came to a variety of decisions on the matter.
Lacy Duhe, 39, and Jeremy Housely, 42, opted to hunker down in their second-story apartment on Deslonde Street in New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward. If they evacuated and ended up in a shelter, they said, they worried about the risk of their unvaccinated children contracting Covid-19. They also had just paid their monthly bills and could not afford to go anywhere.
“It feels serious,” said the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Ja-nyi. “I wasn’t born during Katrina time. But I know it knocked down a lot of places.”
Mary Picot, 71, walked out the door on Saturday afternoon carrying bags of snacks and medicine. She wasn’t worried about flooding and believed the levees would hold. It was the threat of power outages that convinced her to leave.
“My husband is diabetic,” she said. “We have to keep his medicine cold.”
Donald Lyons, 38, was packing up a silver Nissan sedan Saturday afternoon under a cloud-filled sky in Hollygrove, one of the traditionally Black working class neighborhoods that flooded badly when Katrina hit. The car, carrying his wife, three children and mother-in-law, was full of bags and bedding. They were heading to Sugar Land, Texas, 27 miles southwest of Houston, where they had family that had left after Katrina, 16 years ago, and never come back.
“I’m just trying to get somewhere safe,” Mr. Lyons said.
Down the block, Barbara Butler, 65, a housekeeper, said she thought the city was safer now with all of the new flood protection. She intended to ride out the storm at home.
“It gave us some relief,” she said. “It’s better than no relief.”
She was sitting on the porch with her husband, Curtis Duck, 63, and her brother, Ray Thomas, in a house that Ms. Butler said was flooded with eight feet of water after Katrina.
Mr. Duck said he was sick of evacuating time and again.
“We listen to the news,” he said. “People telling us to go, go, go.”
Victor Pizarro, a health advocate, and his husband decided to ride out the storm in their home in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood, although they said they would leave town if they lost power for an extended period.
“It’s definitely triggering to even have to think about this and make these decisions,” Mr. Pizarro said in a telephone interview while he drove across town in search of a spare part for his generator. “It’s exhausting to be a New Orleanian and a Louisianian at this point.”
Andy Horowitz and his familydecided to vacate their home in the Algiers Point neighborhood, which sits directly across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter. Mr. Horowitz is the author of“Katrina: A History, 1915-2015,” and he is among those scholars and Louisiana residents who fear that the city’s new flood protection system, as massive as it is, may prove to be inadequate for a sinking city in the likely path of more frequent and powerful storms in the age of climate change.
“Every summer, New Orleans plays a game of Russian roulette, and every summer we pull the trigger,” Mr. Horowitz said.
NEW ORLEANS — With tracking maps for Hurricane Ida consistently showing an expected pathway toward southeast Louisiana, Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans issued a stern warning on Saturday that city residents who intend to leave should do so immediately.
“In no way will this storm be weakening, and there’s always an opportunity for the storm to strengthen,” Ms. Cantrell said at a news briefing. “Time is not on our side. It’s rapidly growing, it’s intensifying.”
City officials are asking that residents who plan to stay in the city prepare for extended power outages, limited emergency services and several days of high temperatures after the storm passes.
“The first 72 is on you,” said Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “The first three days of this will be difficult for responders to get to you.”
Forecasters are predicting that Hurricane Ida will be a Category 4 storm upon landfall on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which left more than 1,800 dead.
“What we learned during Hurricane Katrina is we are all first-responders,” Ms. Cantrell said. “It’s about taking care of one another.”
— Chelsea Brasted
NEW ORLEANS — On Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Willie L. Calhoun Jr., a 71-year-old resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, was in his Lincoln Continental on the brink of getting out of town. He was not quite sure where. Somewhere in Alabama, he figured.
Rev. Calhoun remembers his father smashing a hole in the roof of his family’s home in the Lower Ninth in 1965, when Hurricane Betsy put 10 feet of water in his house. When Katrina came, he and his family made sure to get out of the neighborhood before the storm destroyed their homes — unlike many of his neighbors, some of whom perished when the levees failed.
The pain from Katrina was now an indelible fact of life in the neighborhood. He had hoped to take part in a 16th anniversary commemoration on Sunday, with a high school marching band and a theme, he said, of “healing, unifying and strengthening our communities.”
“The trauma, and the hurt that’s there,” he said. “I have one friend who lost his mother and his granddaughter in Katrina. For that trauma to be revisited every year is a tough thing.”
But his perspective on the neighborhood 16 years on was somewhat nuanced. He felt confident that the improvements to the city’s storm protection system — with its mammoth flood walls and new gates and levees — would keep the Ninth Ward safe. His worry, he said, was the damage from the wind that comes with a Category 4 hurricane.
And yet it was difficult not to be disappointed. The jobs for Black men seemed to have dried up in the city. A revamped post-Katrina educational system, heavily reliant on charter schools, did not seem, in Rev. Calhoun’s opinion, to have done much good. The neighborhood was in need of economic stimulus. Still full of empty lots, and ghostly foundations of homes, many of them owned by Black families, long washed away.
After $20 billion in infrastructure improvements, it felt, at best, like partial progress, and like survival with an asterisk.
LAKE CHARLES, La. — Not again. That was the widespread sentiment among residents of Lake Charles, a city of about 76,000 residents some 200 miles from New Orleans, on Saturday.
A year after Hurricane Laura left many here without power — and some without homes — for long periods of time, residents were preparing for perhaps yet another weather catastrophe.
When Laura, a powerful Category 4 storm, barreled through Lake Charles last August, it shattered the windows of the home that Juan Jose Galdames, 55, a construction worker, shared with his five children. On Saturday, he was at Home Depot, buying plywood to protect the windows and other vulnerable parts of his house ahead of the storm.
“Yes, I am a little afraid,” Mr. Galdames said. “I don’t want a repeat of that day. It was scary. I want my children to feel safe. I’m trying to get everything ready before nightfall.”
Water and bread were in short supply at an area Target store, and traffic stretched for miles as residents sought safety elsewhere.
Tracy Guillory, 57, a carpenter, tried to prepare by stocking up on supplies and staying on top of weather reports. She said she and her family were weary after a long year of weather crises that included Hurricane Delta and a winter storm that caused pipes to burst and knocked out water systems throughout the region.
Ms. Guillory said her neighborhood was still recovering from flooding in May, which left her SUV beyond repair. She plans to hunker down with her 83-year-old father and 21-year-old daughter.
Josue Espinal, 34, who also works in construction, was trying to reassure his 4-year-old son, Anderson, that everything would be all right. The boy sat on top of a generator box as his father loaded a cart with bottles of water at a Home Depot. Truth was, Mr. Espinal admitted, he too was worried. He and his family live in a mobile home near a lake, and he was looking for a better option to spend the next two nights.
In Louisiana, where daily deaths from Covid reached their highest levels this week, stretched hospitals are having to modify the intense preparations they would normally make ahead of an expected strike from Hurricane Ida.
Louisiana’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Kanter, asked residents on Friday to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits to preserve the state’s hospital capacity, which has been vastly diminished by its most severe Covid surge of the pandemic.
And while plans exist to transfer patients away from coastal areas to inland hospitals ahead of a hurricane, this time “evacuations are just not possible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference.
“The hospitals don’t have room,” he said. “We don’t have any place to bring those patients — not in state, not out of state.”
The governor said officials had asked hospitals to check generators and stockpile more water, oxygen and personal protective supplies than usual for a storm. The implications of a strike from a Category 4 hurricane while hospitals were full were “beyond what our normal plans are,” he added.
Mr. Edwards said he had told President Biden and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to expect Covid-related emergency requests, including oxygen.
The state’s recent wave of Covid hospitalizations has exceeded its previous three peaks, and staffing shortages have necessitated support from federal and military medical teams. On Friday, 2,684 Covid patients were hospitalized in the state. This week Louisiana reported its highest ever single-day death toll from Covid — 139 people.
Oschner Health, one of the largest local medical systems, informed the state that it had limited capacity to accept storm-related transfers, especially from nursing homes, the group’s chief executive, Warner L. Thomas, said. Many of Oschner’s hospitals, which were caring for 836 Covid patients on Friday, had invested in backup power and water systems to reduce the need to evacuate, he said.
The pandemic also complicated efforts to discharge more patients than usual before the storm hits. For many Covid patients who require oxygen, “going home isn’t really an option,” said Stephanie Manson, chief operating officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, which had 190 Covid inpatients on Friday, 79 of them in intensive care units.
The governor said he feared that the movement of tens or hundreds of thousands of evacuees in the state could cause it to lose gains made in recent days as the number of new coronavirus cases began to drop. Dr. Kanter urged residents who were on the move to wear masks and observe social distancing. Many of the state’s testing and vaccination sites were slated to close temporarily.
NEW ORLEANS — As Hurricane Ida heads toward a possible Sunday landfall on Louisiana’s coastline, the National Weather Service’s storm surge forecast has local officials warning about the potential for water to overtop some of the levees that protect parts of New Orleans.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans noted at a news briefing on Friday evening that water overtopping the levees “is as it was structured to do.” That reflects the updates to the local system of earthen and reinforced levees that protects much of southeast Louisiana in the years after Hurricane Katrina stretched it to a breaking point.
The system, officials said, was rebuilt to defend against a so-called “100-year-storm,” or a storm that has a 1 percent chance in happening every year, but to remain reinforced up to a 500-year-event. It includes armoring, splash pads — concrete areas designed to keep the ground behind an overtopped wall from being washed away — and pumps with backup generators, officials said.
Heath Jones, an emergency operation manager with the Army Corps of Engineers, said that some levees protecting New Orleans on the western side of the Mississippi River were at risk of overtopping in line with the Weather Service’s forecast calling for between 10 and 15 feet of storm surge. A federal levee database shows sections of levee there as low as 10 feet.
Levees in this part of the state have rarely been challenged since they were shored up in the years after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“The previous big tests were (hurricanes) Isaac and Gustav,” said Matt Roe, a public affairs specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, which occurred in 2012 and 2008, “but it’s important to note that each storm is different.”
Ida’s strength, according to Chip Cline, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, “will test our hurricane protection system in a way they haven’t been tested before.”
— Chelsea Brasted
Hurricane Ida threatens to be the first major storm to strike the Gulf Coast during the 2021 season, hitting a region in many ways still grappling with the physical and emotional toll of a punishing run of hurricanes last year.
The Atlantic hurricane season of 2020 was the busiest on record, with 30 named storms, 13 of which reached hurricane strength. There were so many storms that forecasters ran through the alphabet and had to take the rare step of calling storms by Greek letters.
Louisiana was dealt the harshest blow, barraged repeatedly by storms, including Hurricane Laura, which was one of the most powerful to hit the state, trailed six weeks later by Delta, which was weaker than Laura but followed a nearly identical path, inflicting considerable pain on communities still gripped by the devastation from the earlier storm.
The state is still struggling to claw its way back. Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said the state had $3 billion in unmet recovery needs. In Lake Charles, which was ravaged by direct hits from both hurricanes followed by a deadly winter storm and flooding in May, local officials recently renewed a plea for federal aid as the city has failed to regain its footing; much of it has yet to recover and many residents, unable to find adequate or affordable housing, have fled.
The looming impact of Ida underscores the persisting danger imperiling coastal communities as a changing climate stands to intensify the destructive force of the storms that have always been a seasonal part of life.
President Biden cited the growing danger in May when he announced a significant increase in funding to build and bolster infrastructure in communities most likely to face the wrath of extreme weather.
Hurricane Nora formed in the eastern Pacific on Saturday morning, threatening much of Mexico’s western coastline as the storm strengthens and barrels its way toward Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco and the tip of the Baja California Peninsula, forecasters said.
As of 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nora was about 425 miles from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and had maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour as it moved north, according to the National Hurricane Center.
A hurricane warning was in effect for parts of western Mexico.
Forecasters said the storm was expected to cause flooding, mudslides and perilous surf along much of Mexico’s central and northern Pacific Coast.
The remnants of the storm are expected to produce heavy rainfall in parts of the southwestern U.S. and central Rockies toward the middle of next week, forecasters said.
A forecast track from the National Hurricane Center showed Nora skirting close to Mexico’s coastline by Sunday morning before moving toward the Gulf of California a day later.
“Some additional strengthening is forecast through tonight if Nora’s center does not make landfall,” the National Hurricane Center said in an update. “Some gradual weakening is expected to begin by Sunday night or Monday, but Nora is forecast to remain as a hurricane through Tuesday.”
Nora is expected to produce rainfall totals of up to 12 inches this weekend along Mexico’s western coast.
It has been a dizzying few weeks for meteorologists who are monitoring Hurricane Ida this weekend after having monitored three named storms that formed in quick succession in the Atlantic, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to different parts of the United States and the Caribbean.
The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.
Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested that storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surges — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.