NEW ORLEANS (NewsNation Now) — Forecasters warned residents along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast to rush preparations Saturday ahead of an intensifying Hurricane Ida, which is expected to bring winds as high as 130 mph, life-threatening storm surge and flooding rain when it slams ashore in Louisiana on Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center warned that super-warm Gulf waters could rapidly magnify Ida’s destructive power, boosting it from a Category 2 storm to an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane in just 18 hours or less.
Coastal highways saw heavy traffic Saturday as people moved to escape the storm’s path. Trucks pulling saltwater fishing boats and campers streamed away from the coast of Interstate 65 in south Alabama. Traffic jams clogged Interstate 10 heading out of New Orleans.
A sea of sandbags lining up homes and businesses south of New Orleans in the small fishing community of Lafitte. The clock is ticking for Ida’s arrival, but residents like Mayor Timothy Kerner are sticking around.
“To have to leave your home not knowing if you’ll have a home, not knowing if your kids will be in school, not knowing if you’ll have a job when you get back. It’s a terrifying situation,” Kerner said.
Kerner isn’t letting a broken arm stop him from protecting his city — moved by the people he loves.
“You know, I don’t get emotional for sad things too much, but when I’m inspired, it does hit me and they do inspire me,” Kerner told NewsNation.
At a local marina, Louisiana fishermen like Keith Tassin are tieing down and securing their boats.
“When I ain’t trawling, I’m fishin’. Still on the water; I can’t do without water,” Tassin said.
He’s been shrimping for 40 years. Today he’s sandwiched between the anniversaries of Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Katrina, a storm that changed the game 16 years ago. Yet, Tassin said he still can’t get those radio reports out of his head.
NewsNation speaks with St. Charles Parish President Matthew Jewell as state braces for Hurrican Ida.
“Ray Nagin came on and said they’re estimating the winds at 175 [mph] to hit Lafitte; I just broke out crying,” Tassin emotionally recalled. “I’ve touched up again, but I cry because I said there goes by boat.”
But the harbor is his home, and this is where Tassin will stay; he told NewsNation he plans to ride out the storm.
Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and local officials are urging people to get evacuate now while they can; ideally before nightfall.
Ida was poised to strike Louisiana 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. A Category 3 storm, Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths and caused levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans, which took years to recover.
“We’re not the same state we were 16 years ago,” Edwards said Saturday, pointing to a federal levee system that’s seen major improvements since Katrina swamped New Orleans in 2005.
Edwards said 5,000 National Guard troops were being staged in 14 parishes for search and rescue efforts with high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters. And 10,000 linemen were on standby to respond to electrical outages.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called for a voluntary evacuation and reiterated Saturday that the time to leave safely was growing short. Collin Arnold, the city’s emergency management director, said the city could be under high winds for about 10 hours. Officials warned those who stayed to be prepared for long power outages amid sweltering heat in the days ahead.
The city’s top infrastructure official, Ramsey Green, stressed that the levee and drainage systems protecting the city have improved since Katrina.
“That said, if we see 10 to 20 inches of rain over an abbreviated period of time, we will see flooding,” he said.
In Washington, President Joe Biden on Saturday called Ida “very dangerous” and urged Americans “to pay attention and be prepared.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this report