‘COVIDA’: Hurricane Ida hits Gulf Coast of Alabama as hospitals inundated with COVID patients
The Alabama Department of Tourism was scheduled to meet at The Lodge at Gulf State Park on Sunday for its annual meeting with some 300 people expected.
But Hurricane Ida, which is expected to escalate into a powerful Category 4 as it heads toward south-central Louisiana, called off the “Governor’s Tourism Conference” on Friday. which Chief of Staff Jon Bonner was scheduled to speak.
“We thought it was unwise to encourage people to come to the beach when the hurricane was approaching the Gulf of Mexico,” said Lee Sentell, director of tourism. He said his agency was sending notices so people could cancel their trips.
The conference cancellation comes as concerns have surfaced along the Alabama coast about largely occupied rental housing throughout the weekend. The concern, according to a spokesperson for Gulf Shores, is that if the storm’s track moves east, it will be difficult to evacuate Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in a timely manner.
Rental units are expected to be 68% occupied on Saturday and 64% on Sunday despite deteriorating conditions in the Gulf. Double red flags, which closed the waters to swimmers, flew at midday on Friday.
The Baldwin County Commission has declared a “local state of emergency” and is awaiting a follow-up statement from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s office this weekend.
“I hope that some of the people who are trying to make up their mind will not come here,” said Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood. She said she hoped the county’s statement would help visitors make that decision.
Grant Brown, spokesperson for the city of Gulf Shores, said there was no reason for an evacuation as the storm’s current track was toward the New Orleans area. But he said if there was an overnight shift to the east, it could be of concern for Pleasure Island in Alabama.
“It’s a frightening storm for us,” Brown said, noting weekend occupancy rates, which fall to their mid-thirties on Monday. “If during the night tonight the (path) of this storm moves and comes this way, we are wasting time because it is moving fast. This could be a real problem with 68% occupancy to get our tourists and residents out with only two bridges and limited roads. This is our biggest concern with the lack of accessibility and the limited time.
Flooded roads likely
Flooding caused by heavy rains is also of concern. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have experienced flooding in the neighborhoods or in the parking lots of beachfront condos over the past year.
“In the West Beach (Boulevard) neighborhood, the parking lots are in a bowl and cars are flooding,” Brown said.
Coastal areas of Alabama are not in the Cone of Uncertainty Friday afternoon, but are under tropical storm and storm surge watch and may experience dangerous conditions from Ida.
Mobile’s National Weather Service said Ida would likely bring rainfall of 4 to 8 inches with isolated higher amounts along the central Gulf Coast from Sunday to Monday. Flash floods are expected and some roads, including the Spanish Causeway of Fort, are expected to be inundated by rising waters.
The storm could be a 120 mph monster hitting the Louisiana coast 16 years to the day Hurricane Katrina wreaked massive havoc on the Louisiana coast and inundated the city of New Orleans. Wind gusts in Mobile and Baldwin counties could reach 50 mph.
“If this thing doesn’t change, we’ll see gusts of wind,” said Mike Evans, deputy director of the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency. “But the majority will be rain and water that collects. The simplest thing to say is that people stay home and indoors (during the hurricane) and don’t drive on the roads and go to a flooded road.
He suggested that people living in flood-prone areas, like Bayou Sara in Saraland, and in low-lying areas of the county in other parts of the county, consider calling a friend and going to more land. raised.
The only evacuation that was called was from the town of Dauphin Island. The city’s evacuation order is for its area of West End Beach, which is often flooded by storm surges following a hurricane.
But a hurricane is not the only concern.
The storm’s arrival comes as the Alabama coast continues to battle COVID-19 and regional hospitals are filled with sick patients.
In Mobile County, the Department of Health calls the duel concerns “COVIDA” – a mix of COVID and Ida.
“This is a serious situation,” said Dr Rendi Murphree, director of disease surveillance at the Mobile County Public Health Department.
The health ministry is urging residents not to congregate inside an emergency shelter, if it is open over the weekend. Shelter should be a “last resort,” according to Erin Coker, emergency preparedness administrator at the Department of Health.
“We try to encourage people not to come to shelters unless you absolutely have to,” Coker said.
Murphree said, “The grouping settings are dangerous right now. Don’t depend on shelter. If we have an open shelter, it will be very important that we try to keep it COVID-free and also take care of those who show up. “
The ministry has provided some advice on what is needed in a kit for people who are considering evacuating or sheltering at home:
- Get enough water in the house – about a gallon per day per person
- Non-perishable foods
- Additional medication
- A first aid kit
- Flashlights and weather forecast radio with batteries
- Change of clothes
- Important documents
- Sanitary ware
Additionally, Murphree said people were required to wear face masks and hand sanitizer if they planned to travel. Additionally, she said family units should stay together and social distancing should continue if people line up for gas or food and water.
The combination of Ida and the COVID outbreak comes as hospitalizations have declined slightly in recent days. According to the Mobile County Health Department, 429 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday, which is on par with other days this week.
Mobile and Baldwin counties have been grappling with the wave of the delta variant of the virus for a month, draining hospital staff and prompting the state to establish two temporary morgues in the two counties. This is the first time that mortuaries have been moved to a county during the pandemic.
Infirmary Health in Mobile had 492 patients on Friday, up from 471 on Monday. Of those, 186 are sick with COVID-19, which is comparable to Monday’s tally. Of those, 34 are on a ventilator, just one more than Monday.
“The hospitals of the Infirmary Health each have emergency operating plans in place for hurricanes and other emergencies,” said Hannah Peterson, spokesperson for Infirmary Health. “Our teams successfully weathered Hurricanes Sally and Zeta during the COVID pandemic last year and are ready to care for our patients safely and effectively should a hurricane hit our area again. In addition to the plans, our staff are experienced with hurricanes, and the generator is available in the event of a power outage. “
At Ascension Providence, 101 patients have been hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 117 a week ago. Of these patients, 90% are not vaccinated.
“Ascension Providence has a detailed hurricane plan which we have activated several times, as Mobile is frequently threatened by hurricanes and storms,” said Sydney Olinger, spokesperson for Ascension Providence. “We have emergency generators and precautions we take before hurricanes like refueling with fuel, water, food, medicine and other supplies. We make sure staff come early for their shifts, so they are in place safely and not traveling when high winds arrive. “
Evans, with Mobile County EMA, said hospitals are prepared to weather the storm.
“They are full,” he said. “They have generators and fuel and areas of hospitals where it gets too risky, they can move patients to more hardened areas. The big problem is because of COVID right now, there are more people out there right now than they would like. “