BBC-Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the US state of Louisiana as Hurricane Ida closes in from the Gulf of Mexico.
Ida is now a category four hurricane, one below the highest level, with up to 150mph (240km/h) sustained winds.
The National Hurricane Center said “potentially catastrophic wind damage and flooding rainfall will impact portions of the northern Gulf coast beginning later this morning” (Sunday).
Position of Ida at 01:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Sunday. Source: National Hurricane Center
The NHC said that, at 12:00 GMT on Sunday, Ida was about 50 miles south-west of the mouth of the Mississippi river and was moving north-west at about 15mph. While still over water, it has the capacity to strengthen even further.
Sunday marks the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans after making landfall as a category three. Katrina flooded 80% of the city and killed more than 1,800 people.
With stronger storm defences now in place, there’s hope that levees in New Orleans will be able to withstand the impact of the hurricane.
But experts warn that if storm surges hit at a time that coincides with high tides, sea water could flood the New Orleans levee system and enter the city again.
“Please understand this, there is the possibility that conditions could be unliveable along the coast for some time and areas around New Orleans and Baton Rouge could be without power for weeks,” the National Weather Service wrote on Saturday.
“We have all seen the destruction and pain caused by [Hurricanes] Harvey, Michael and Laura. Anticipate devastation on this level and if it doesn’t happen then we should all count our blessings.”
Alessandra Jerolleman, a senior fellow in emergency management at New Orleans’ Tulane University, told the BBC as she fled in her car: “I am absolutely devastated thinking about those communities under mandatory evacuation orders.
“They can expect to see catastrophic and substantial damage… streets can be expected to flood, vehicles can be expected to be lost.”
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