With a rapidly intensifying Hurricane Ida barreling toward Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday that the “next 24 hours are very, very important,” urging the public to use that time to collect at least three days’ worth of food, water and medicines.
“Now is the time to finish your preparations, and I want to encourage everyone that by nightfall tomorrow, you need to be where you intend to be to ride out the storm,” Edwards said.
Benjamin Schott, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in New Orleans, warned that Hurricane Ida will be a “life altering storm for those who aren’t prepared.” He said coastal Louisiana should expect tropical storm force winds beginning Saturday evening.
“It is time for people to start taking action. We’re in the last 24 to 36 hours, at most,” Schott said.
Schott said this storm has catastrophic potential, with 110 mph winds possible from the southern tip of Plaquemines Parish up along the River Parishes and Baton Rouge to the southern border of Mississippi. The storm could also dump 10 to 15 inches of rain across large portions of south Louisiana, with extreme flooding from New Orleans to Houma to Tangipahoa Parish.
Hurricane Ida is “changing by the hour” and moving “ahead of schedule,” Edwards said, cutting back time for preparations.
“We don’t have the normal time that we typically have in order to prepare for a hurricane of this magnitude,” he said.
Hurricane Ida is predicted to make landfall Sunday, striking Louisiana as it grapples with its fourth surge in COVID-19 cases.
"The implications of having a Category Four storm with a southeastern strike while our hospitals are full is beyond what most people normally contemplate, and beyond what our normal plans are,” Edwards said.
There were 2,684 COVID-19 patients in Louisiana’s hospitals on Friday, 300 fewer than a week ago.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer, said he’s grateful that the pandemic has “softened a little bit over the past week,” but noted that the health care system is still dealing with an unsustainable patient load
Kanter urged the public to remain vigilant against COVID-19 and to wear masks when congregating outside of family units.
“There’s a lot of COVID out there. There’s a lot of risk out there,” Kanter said.
Edward announced he would extend the current public health emergency that's set to expire on Sept. 1 for another month, keeping in place a mask mandate for indoor public settings.
Shortly before Friday’s press conference, Edwards spoke by phone with President Joe Biden and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. The Democratic governor warned federal officials to prepare for requests for emergency supplies that might be out of the norm.
Edwards said that with so many people recovering from COVID-19, the state might need help with supplying oxygen canisters.
The White House said Friday it is dispatching a surge response team from FEMA to Louisiana to assist hospitals ahead Hurricane Ida's landfall.
The reinforcements include 47 ambulances operated by 94 emergency service providers "to support patient movement statewide to assist the state in decompressing hospital load should that be needed," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
The federal back-up also includes 50 FEMA paramedics who will provide medical care statewide.
Edwards said the entirety of the Louisiana National Guard – some 5,000 personnel – have been activated to respond to the storm.