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Hurricane Ida Makes Landfall in Louisiana, Disrupting Shipping

NOAA
Eye Hurricane Ida as the storm makes landfall (NOAA)

Published Aug 29, 2021 7:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday as a major Category 4 hurricane, with winds of 130 knots and an estimated storm surge of as much as 15 feet in the most-affected areas. The storm is the most powerful to strike the state in many years, and it arrived on the same date that Hurricane Katrina made landfall 16 years ago. 

All ports within the Port of New Orleans captain of the port zone have been closed since Saturday afternoon, except for the port of Venice on the outermost reaches of the Mississippi Delta. Merchant vessel traffic on the Mississippi has been shut down between Lettsworth, Louisiana (200 miles upriver from New Orleans) and the river's mouth. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway has also closed in affected areas.

The storm surge briefly caused the mighty Mississippi's flow to reverse, according to data provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The river gage at Belle Chase, Louisiana recorded a rapid six-foot spike in the water level and a flow rate of negative 10,700 cubic feet per second at about 1230 hours. From start to end, the rare phenomenon lasted for about three hours, and it had at least one unusual effect on navigation: the ferry that serves Chalmette, Louisiana broke loose from its moorings and began drifting upstream (not downstream) at mile marker 90, according to local media. 

Multiple vessel breakaways have been reported on social media, including at least two incidents resulting in a collision. Bystander video taken in St. Rose, Louisiana appears to capture the moment that two breakaway OSVs collided on the Mississippi. 

The Houma region was directly in the storm's path, and early indications of the impact suggest some significant damage. A hospital in Lafourche Parish lost its roof in high winds, impacting its ability to care for patients; according to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, the evacuation order covering the area does not apply to hospitals, as there is no available room elsewhere to relocate their patients.

The storm's winds have taken a lesser toll on New Orleans, where 117,000 households are currently without power. Some outlying precincts beyond the city's levy system have experienced severe flooding, with waters rising several feet above street level. 

Ida is expected to weaken rapidly late on Sunday and will become a tropical depression by the time it reaches Mississippi on Monday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm surge effects are expected to subside by late Sunday.