Rinse and repeat: Louisiana residents brace for another major hurricane
In anticipation of Tropical Storm Ida, which could be a major hurricane by the time it makes landfall, people stocked up on grocery essentials and gas throughout the New Orleans area on Aug. 26.
If you're from Louisiana, you probably know the hurricane preparation drill – the time to prepare is now and, as Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Friday, "We should be prepared to take the brunt of the severe weather."
As AccuWeather experts have forecast, Bayou residents should fully expect that brunt.
An emergency declaration from Edwards covers the entire state while hurricane watches specifically for New Orleans have been issued, putting the state's largest city on guard for what could be its second major hurricane in 10 months after the eye of Hurricane Zeta, a category 3 storm, moved directly over the city last October.
In New Orleans, residents knew to hit the stores early, cleaning out the shelves at one store while stocking up on the grocery essentials and topping off gas tanks.
"I hate to say it, but we’re experienced at this," Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy told AccuWeather's Adam Del Rosso during Thursday night's installment of AccuWeather Prime. "We already have pre-positioned utility trucks so that if power lines go down, they can quickly move in. But of course, hospitals and homes have generators if they have people that cannot be moved, the generators can provide the support for ventilators, oxygen machines and et cetera,” the senator said.
Senator Bill Cassidy joined AccuPrime for a live interview on Aug. 26, cautioning the people of Louisiana to not take Tropical Storm Ida casually and to heed any evacuation orders that may come.
However, Cassidy added that the experience many state residents have could also be a double-edged sword.
While it's helpful to know the drill and feel calmly familiar with the stress of a storm's arrival, complacency could be deadly.
"My biggest concern is always that someone takes it too casually. Somebody that should evacuate chooses not to evacuate because ‘ah, I’ve been through a storm and I’ll be OK.’ That’s a wrong attitude," he said. "If you’re told to evacuate, you should evacuate. Don’t put the people who will have to come rescue you in harm’s way. Evacuate. Pick up the pieces later."
Part of that preparation in New Orleans also means distributing sandbags to safeguard against storm surge. City Mayor LaToya Cantrell told WDSU that the city is offering free bags to residents at four distribution sites.
On Friday, Cantrell called for mandatory evacuations for residents located outside the levee protection system, including Lake Catherine, Irish Bayou and Venetian Isles.
"We do have a major storm heading our way. We are activating every single resource at our disposal so that we are prepared to respond," Cantrell said.
During a press conference later in the day on Friday, Cantrell said the city of New Orleans is unable to issue a mandatory evacuation for its residents because there is not enough time to do so before the storm makes landfall.
Other concerns center on the storm's potential for rapid intensification.
Thanks to sea-surface temperatures near 90 degrees Fahrenheit that have converted the Gulf of Mexico into a tropical microwave, there is also extensive worry that Ida could continue intensifying right up until landfall, particularly endangering coastal communities.
One such city, Lake Charles, is still reeling from last year's record-breaking hurricane madness.
“Many structures are compromised throughout this city, and it would not take much, would not take a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane to literally blow over a lot of structures in this community that is left damaged from Laura or Delta,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter told KATC. "We have 5,000 to 7,000 people out of a population of 80,000 that we believe are still displaced. We have properties of both residential and commercial that literally haven't been touched since Hurricane Laura.”
The New Orleans Sewage & Water Board (S&WB) said Friday on Twitter that 96 of the city's 99 drainage pumps are ready for service and would be fully staffed throughout the storm.
According to WWNO, the three service pumps are in New Orleans East and Lakeview, the latter of which services a portion of the city that sits four feet below sea level, making it particularly susceptible to flooding.
“We don’t have as much backup power as we would like, but it’s enough,“ said spokesperson Courtney Barnes, according to WWNO. “We always want 99 of 99, but the reality is that we’re never in a situation where we can run all 99 pumps at the same time.”
Another harsh reality for the state is the status of COVID-19 transmission. With over 140,000 new cases recorded in the past four weeks, Louisiana has had the fifth-most infections in the whole country. That sharp rise in cases is accounting for over 1,500 patients filling ICU beds in the state. Just 203 ICU beds in the entire state are currently available across the nine regions, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health.
CNN reported on Friday that the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has no plans to separate vaccinated shelter-goers from unvaccinated shelter-goers, although spokesperson Mike Steele did say that masks and social distancing are required at all state shelters, along with an adherence to CDC guidelines.
"Well, of course, if you’re having to evacuate people from hospitals further south into hospitals that are already full further north, that’s a real burden," Sen. Cassidy told AccuWeather. "It does seem like the peak of infections may have fallen, but we’re still seeing a lot of folks dying. So the ICUs are still full, it is one more reason to be vaccinated."
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