US Gulf Coast braces for Hurricane Ida

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Hurricane Ida is churning towards the US Gulf Coast and is forecast to gather strength, prompting evacuations of flood-prone New Orleans neighbourhoods and oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters say it could make US landfall as a dangerous category four storm, generating winds nearing 225km/h, heavy downpours and a tidal surge that could plunge much of the Louisiana shoreline under metres of water.

Ida battered Cuba on Friday and by early Saturday it was carrying top winds of around 129km/h as it headed northwest, the National Hurricane Center said.

The NHC expected the storm to intensify rapidly before coming ashore by late Sunday.

Flooding from Ida's storm surge - high water driven by the hurricane's winds - could reach up to 4.5 metres around the mouth of the Mississippi River, with lower levels extending east along the adjacent coastlines of Mississippi and Alabama, the NHC said.

Scattered tornadoes, widespread power outages and inland flooding from torrential rain across the region were also expected.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, whose state is already reeling from a public health crisis stemming from a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, urged residents to ready themselves for the hurricane immediately.

New Orleans officials ordered residents to leave communities outside the city's levee system, and posted voluntary evacuation notices for the rest of the parish.

Edwards declared a state of emergency on Thursday, and on Friday US President Joe Biden issued a pre-landfall federal emergency declaration at Edwards' request.

US energy companies racing to complete evacuations of offshore platforms in the gulf before the storm had reduced petroleum production by nearly 60 per cent and gas output by almost half, federal regulators said.

On Friday, Ida smashed into Cuba's small Isle of Youth, off the southwestern end of the Caribbean island nation, toppling trees and tearing roofs from dwellings.

Jamaica was flooded by heavy rain, and there were landslides after the passage of the storm.

Ida, the ninth named storm and fourth hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, may well exceed the strength of Hurricane Laura, the last category four storm to strike Louisiana, by the time it makes landfall.

The region was devastated in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1800 people.

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