Hurricane Ida strengthens into Category 3 storm as it approaches Gulf Coast 💥💥💥

“Ida is poised to strengthen further and based on recent satellite images it appears that strengthening is imminent,” the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Saturday evening, adding that Ida is “expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane.”

Ida strengthened to a Category 3 storm as of early Sunday morning, Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft determined, with sustained winds at 115 mph and gusting to 125 mph. Forecasts have Ida potentially becoming a Category 4 hurricane prior to landfall with sustained winds of at least 130 mph.

The storm is poised to make landfall Sunday afternoon or evening, yet tropical storm-force winds could reach New Orleans and surrounding areas Sunday morning.

A hurricane warning remains in effect from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to the mouth of the Pearl River and includes Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and New Orleans.

The life-threatening impacts of rainfall, wind and storm surges will extend far from the center of the storm, the NHC said, and warnings have been issued to residents that have felt the effects of major storms both in the past year and historically.

If Ida makes landfall in Louisiana as forecast, it would be the fourth hurricane to do so since last August and Louisiana’s third major hurricane landfall in that span.

A Sunday strike would also fall on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s Gulf Coast landfall, which led to the deaths of more than 1,800 people in the region.

“August 29 is an important date in history here,” Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, told CNN Saturday. “A lot of people remember what happened 16 years ago. It’s time to hunker down tonight and be where you need to be.”

For Ida, officials throughout the state have implored people to evacuate, with some issuing mandatory orders to do so. News footage from the area showed traffic backed up heading out of New Orleans.

Arnold urged people to stock up on enough food and water for at least three days.

“We say the first 72 (hours) is on you,” Arnold added. “The first three days of this will be difficult for responders to get to you.”

A dangerous storm surge of 10 to 15 feet is expected from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the mouth of the Mississippi River on Sunday as Ida makes landfall, the NHC said. Additional storm surges are anticipated from the shores of western Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border.

The storm surge, coupled with winds as strong as 150 mph, could leave some parts of southeast Louisiana “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” according to a hurricane statement from the National Weather Service in New Orleans.

The statement warned of “structural damage to buildings, with many washing away” as well as winds that could bring “widespread power and communication outages.” Flooding rains could cause “numerous road and bridge closures with some weakened or washed out” along with “some structures becoming uninhabitable or washed away.”

Rainfall accumulation during the storm may total 8 to 16 inches from southeast Louisiana to southern Mississippi through Monday, with isolated amounts of 20 inches possible, the NHC said.

Region prepares as landfall approaches

Residents in the area are quickly running out of time to vacate, and those who have not departed in time should work to find a safe place to hunker down.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said Friday that once the storm starts, people need to stay off the roads to protect first responders.

As the storm approached, mandatory evacuations were ordered for parts of at least seven Louisiana parishes as well as the towns of Grande Isle and Port Fourchon. Voluntary evacuations were issued in six parishes.

Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng urged on Saturday for residents in low-lying areas to evacuate before Hurricane Ida hits, as the expected storm surge is “unsurvivable.”

“I want to reiterate the storm surge that we are expecting is unsurvivable,” she said, adding that the storm is expected to linger over the area. “We need you to leave immediately.”

The storm will further strain resources already stretched thin in the midst of the latest Covid-19 pandemic surge. Hospitals in New Orleans will not evacuate and instead shelter in place while Ida makes its way through the region, city health department director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said.

“I would ask our residents, if you do not need to go to the hospital this weekend, if you do not have a life-threatening emergency, please do not go,” Avegno said. “This is not the time to go to the hospital for a routine thing that could wait until later.”

CNN’s Monica Garrett, Gene Norman, Chris Boyette, Paul P. Murphy, Melissa Alonso, Hollie Silverman, Aya Elamroussi, Haley Brink, Ray Sanchez and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.

Hurricane Ida strengthens into Category 3 storm as it approaches Gulf Coast

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