(NEW YORK) — Ida, which became a Category 1 hurricane Friday afternoon, is forecast to strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds before landfall in Louisiana late Sunday.
On Saturday morning Ida crossed over western Cuba and entered the southern Gulf of Mexico, where it is expected to begin rapid intensification as it careens toward the Louisiana coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.
New Orleans will begin to see high winds as early as Saturday night, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a Friday news conference, warning that the storm presents a “dramatic threat” to the city.
Mandatory evacuations, for areas outside the levees, were ordered south of New Orleans, effective 3 p.m. local time Friday. In the rest of the parish, evacuations are voluntary.
“We’re not calling for a mandatory evacuation, because the time simply is not on our side,” Cantrell said. “We do not want to have people on the road, and therefore in greater danger, because of the lack of time.”
Ida is forecast to reach major hurricane status and close in on the Louisiana coastline Sunday morning, making landfall between 5 and 11 p.m. By early Monday morning, Ida will rapidly weaken and move inland; however, much of Louisiana will still experience strong winds.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said people who are evacuating should get to their destinations by Saturday evening.
“This could be a life-altering storm if you’re not prepared,” Edwards said at a Friday press conference.
“We need to take this storm very seriously. Now is not the time for jokes, for playing around,” Cantrell said. “We need to take it seriously, we need to reach out to our neighbors, our family members and our friends.”
Storm surge could reach 15 feet along parts of the Louisiana/Mississippi coastline and 6 feet on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.
A storm surge watch is in effect along parts of the northern Gulf Coast, from Sabine Pass, Louisiana, through New Orleans to the Alabama-Florida border.
The dangerous storm surge will be exacerbated by extreme rainfall. Much of Louisiana and Mississippi could get 6 inches of rain, while parts of southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi could get 10 to 20 inches. Flash flooding is also possible through early next week.
Some COVID-19 testing and vaccine sites are closing early Friday due to the storm, the Louisiana Department of Health said.
The high number of COVID-19 patients in Louisiana also means the state will not be able to evacuate hospitals, the governor said. Cantrell also said New Orleans hospitals were not being evacuated at this time.
“We’ve been talking to hospitals about making all the preparations possible to make sure that their generators are working, that they have way more water on hand than normal,” Edwards said.
Health officials are asking people to avoid emergency departments throughout the storm if possible.
Residents should be prepared for power outages, downed trees and significant street flooding, said Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Hurricane warnings and states of emergency have been declared in New Orleans and Louisiana.
Ida should weaken to a tropical storm by Monday, but it’s forecast to move inland across Louisiana, with more potentially devastating downpours.About 20 inches of rain are expected, which means extreme floods are possible.
President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for Louisiana.
Biden is “closely tracking” the developments and will host a call with the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to discuss preparations, press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
The administration, Psaki added, also is working to free up hospital beds and pre-position resources, in addition to sending a search-response team, 50 FEMA paramedics and 47 FEMA ambulances to assist with care.
ABC News’ Will McDuffie contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.