Hurricane Ida tore its way through Louisiana on Sunday, drowning homes and peeling roofs from businesses as it ripped its way along the coast.
It was one of the most powerful hurricanes that’s ever struck the U.S. mainland, with winds of 150 mph (230kph) at its peak. However, it weakened into a tropical storm late Sunday night as it set its sights on Mississippi.
Ida’s strength plunged parts of Louisiana, including New Orleans, into darkness as it strangled the electrical grid. It also knocked out cellphone service, and it killed at least one person outside Baton Rouge, who was hit by a falling tree.
Here’s a look at some of the destruction the powerful storm wrought on the U.S. and the Caribbean.
The first landfall
Soon after being upgraded from tropical storm to hurricane status on Friday, Ida smashed into Cuba’s small Isle of Youth, off the southwestern end of the Caribbean island nation, toppling trees and tearing roofs from dwellings.
The streets of Havana, the capital, were empty as residents shuttered themselves at home ahead of Ida’s arrival, which government forecasters warned could bring storm surges to Cuba’s western coastline.
Jamaica was flooded by heavy rains, and there were landslides after the passage of the storm. Many roads were impassable, forcing some residents to abandon their homes.
U.S President Joe Biden issued a warning on Saturday when it became clear Ida was carving a path directly towards Louisiana.
“Ida’s turning into a very, very dangerous storm. I need not tell you,” Biden said.
“Just got another briefing from the Hurricane Centre and as you know, it’s now heading straight for — right towards — Louisiana. This weekend is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and it’s a stark reminder that we have to do everything we can to prepare the people in the region and make sure we’re ready to respond.”
Hurricane hits U.S.
Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday, knocking out the power for all of New Orleans right around sunset. The remaining residents — those who hadn’t evacuated — battened down the hatches and braced for a rough night.
“I had a long, miserable night,” Chris Atkins told the Associated Press.
He was in his New Orleans home when he heard a “kaboom” and all the sheetrock in the living room fell into the house. A short time later, the whole side of the living room fell onto his neighbor’s driveway.
“Lucky the whole thing didn’t fall inward. It would have killed us,” he said.
By morning, the streets of New Orleans were crowded with debris and some roads had become fully blocked. Interstate 10 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — the main east-west route along the Gulf Coast — was also closed due to flooding, with the water reported to be 4 feet deep at one spot, officials said.
One area, just west of New Orleans, got about 17 inches (43 cm) of rain in 20 hours, Greg Carbin of NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center tweeted.
Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
Over 2,200 evacuees were holed up in 41 shelters as of Monday, though officials said they’d expect that number to keep going up as people are rescued or manage to escape the homes that did flood.
Sadly, officials have also said they expect the death toll — currently sitting at just one person — to increase as the full scope of the hurricane’s impact comes into focus.
“We’re going to have many more confirmed fatalities,” said Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards, citing the level of destruction.
Rescue efforts continue
Rescue efforts are underway. The Louisiana National Guard said it activated 4,900 Guard personnel and lined up 195 high-water vehicles, 73 rescue boats and 34 helicopters. Local and state agencies were adding hundreds of more.
Desperate residents have also taken to social media to tweet out their addresses and the addresses of their loved ones, many of whom hid in their attics as the storm slammed down on their homes.
The power outages remain a huge issue for those living in Louisiana and Mississippi. More than a million customers lost power, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks outages nationwide. That means a million people without access to air conditioning and refrigeration — despite the suffocating summer heat.
New Orleans is projected to see 30 C temperatures all week long.
“We don’t know if the damage is extensive. We don’t know if the damage is something we can get up quickly,” Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez told WWL-TV.
The hurricane twisted and collapsed a giant transmission tower in Jefferson Parish along the Mississippi River, and the wires fell into the river, causing widespread outages and halting river traffic, parish Emergency Management Director Joe Valiente said.
The tower, which survived Katrina in 2005, is one of eight ways power is brought into New Orleans, and the failure of one of them might have led the others to shut down as well, Rodriguez said.
Other areas were also in the dark, with the storm flattening telephone poles and trees bringing down power lines.
Valiente told NPR that the entire power grids collapsed in about 10 parishes and that it could take six weeks to fully restore power.
Edwards said on Sunday that 30,000 utility workers were in the state to help restore electricity.
AT&T’s phone system was down all across southeastern Louisiana. Many people resorted to using walkie-talkies.
Ida was expected to pick up speed Monday night before dumping rain on the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys Tuesday, the Appalachian mountain region Wednesday and the nation’s capital on Thursday.
Forecasters said flash flooding and mudslides are possible along Ida’s path before it blows out to sea over New England on Friday.
— with files from Reuters, the Associated Press