Hurricane Ida strengthens, Louisiana braces for severe blow

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Forecasters warned residents along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast to rush preparations Saturday ahead of an intensifying Hurricane Ida, which is expected to bring winds as high as 130 mph (209 kph), life-threatening storm surge and flooding rain when it slams ashore in Louisiana on Sunday.

The National Hurricane Center warned that super-warm Gulf waters could rapidly magnify Ida’s destructive power, boosting it from a Category 2 storm to an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane in just 18 hours or less.

Coastal highways saw heavy traffic Saturday as people moved to escape the storm’s path. Trucks pulling saltwater fishing boats and campers streamed away from the coast Interstate 65 in south Alabama. Traffic jams clogged Interstate 10 heading out of New Orleans.

“We’re going to catch it head-on,” said Bebe McElroy as she prepared to leave her home in the coastal Louisiana village of Cocodrie. “I’m just going around praying, saying, ‘Dear Lord, just watch over us.'”

Ida was poised to strike Louisiana 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. A Category 3 storm, Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths and caused levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans, which took years to recover.

“We’re not the same state we were 16 years ago,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday, pointing to a federal levee system that’s seen major improvements since Katrina swamped New Orleans in 2005.

“This system is going to be tested,” Edwards said. “The people of Louisiana are going to be tested. But we are resilient and tough people. And we’re going to get through this.” Read the full story and additional coverage here:

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