Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, with winds of 240 kilometers per hour, and a potentially “catastrophic” rise in sea levels, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tens of thousands of people fled the state, fearing for their lives, but by Sunday morning it was too late to escape.
Governor John Bel Edwards said the hurricane could be the strongest in nearly 150 years.
The intensity of the hurricane gained momentum over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
It made landfall in Port Fortune, south of New Orleans, as a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale of 5. This means that it will likely cause severe damage to homes, trees and electricity poles.
In some areas, the sea level rise associated with the cyclone may reach 4.8 meters, which is likely to lead to the inundation of some lower parts of the coastal strip.
The effect of climate change on the frequency of storms remains unclear, but rising sea surface temperatures warm the air above, thus providing more energy to drive hurricanes.
This increases the likelihood that hurricanes will become more powerful and cause larger torrential rains.
Ida came on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 hurricane that swept through New Orleans in 2005 and killed more than 1,800 people.
The National Weather Service warned New Orleans residents to go into hiding if they weren’t, and wrote on Twitter: “Park to an indoor room or a small room without windows. Stay home in these conditions.”
Louisiana hospitals are under pressure from Covid-19 patients, as the state has the third highest rate of infections in the United States.
Hospitals in the path of cyclones are usually evacuated, but this time there are few available beds even in hospitals far from the coast.
“We have no way of bringing these patients either in or out of the state,” Edwards said.
The governor of neighboring Mississippi declared a state of emergency.
Earlier, US President Joe Biden said the federal government was ready to help.
Ida has already invaded Cuba, uprooting trees and roofs. Jamaica experienced torrential rain due to the cyclone, but no casualties were reported.
The National Weather Service said Saturday: “We have to know that conditions may be unbearable on the coasts for some time. Areas around New Orleans and Baton Rouge may have power cuts for several weeks.”
Alessandra Jeruleman, an emergency management expert at Tulane University in New Orleans, told the BBC, “I am sad about those who have been ordered to evacuate. They can expect massive destruction and damage. Streets can be flooded, cars can get lost.”
Oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico have been closed and production in the region temporarily halted.