San Salvador: Hurricane Ida roared through the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, where important oil fields are located, after triggering floods and mudslides that killed 124 people in El Salvador.
Ida was expected to weaken gradually on Monday as it heads toward some of the oil and gas production facilities in the central Gulf, the US National Hurricane Center said.
The storm reached hurricane force again late on Saturday and strengthened to a Category 2 storm on Sunday with sustained winds of near 165 kph, the Miami-based hurricane center said in its 8:30am advisory.
Some energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuating workers from offshore platforms and several large producers shut down some oil and gas production as a precautionary measure.
The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only terminal in the United States capable of handling the largest tankers, said it would stop unloading ships due to stormy seas.
A quarter of US oil and 15% of its natural gas are produced from fields in the Gulf and the coast is home to 40% of the nation’s refining capacity.
In El Salvador, rivers burst their banks and hillsides collapsed under relentless rains triggered by Ida’s passage, cutting off parts of the mountainous interior from the rest of the country.
El Salvador’s government said 124 people were killed as mudslides and floods swept away rudimentary houses.
The bulk of the Central American country’s coffee is grown in areas far from the worst affects of the flooding but the national coffee association had no estimate of potential damage to the harvest.
The hurricane center set a hurricane warning from Pascagoula, Mississippi, to Indian Pass, Florida, meaning hurricane conditions could be expected in the area within 24 hours.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for parts of Louisiana and Mississippi including the city of New Orleans, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Sunday, allowing the government to mobilize troops and rescue workers.
If Ida makes landfall in Louisiana it would be the first storm to strike the state since Hurricane Gustav came ashore in September 2008.
As of 8:30am, Ida was 645 km south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and was moving north-northwest near 22 kph, the hurricane center said. Ida was expected to turn toward the north and move faster toward the Gulf Coast before veering off to the northeast late on Monday.
Ida swept past the Mexican resort of Cancun on Sunday, doing little damage to the city.
About 1,000 people were evacuated from Mexico’s Holbox Island, an isolated fishing community and sanctuary for thousands of flamingos and other exotic birds located northwest of Cancun.
Ida first became a hurricane on Thursday off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, where heavy rains forced more than 5,000 people into shelters.
The country’s coffee crop was not directly affected by the storm, according to the local coffee council.