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Thousands of Louisiana residents flee as Hurricane Ida barrels toward Gulf Coast

They packed up cars, rushed to airports and clogged highways as they sought to get out of town before it made landfall.
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At first, Tulane University senior Josie Kane didn’t realize a monster hurricane was heading to New Orleans but she became increasingly worried as reports of the storm intensified in tone.

She went to work as usual Friday and then started overhearing her coworkers, many of them New Orleans natives, talk about their evacuation plans. That’s when it became real.

“It’s spooky that it’s going to be on the anniversary of Katrina,” Kane said. “It makes it more intense. Everything feels less stable all around.”

Kane was among thousands of Louisiana residents who fled the state Saturday as Hurricane Ida barreled across the Gulf of Mexico, rapidly gaining strength.

Many evacuees were met with bumper-to-bumper traffic that delayed drive times by several hours while frenzied travelers rushed to the airport in hopes of escaping the hurricane, which was upgraded to a Category 4 on Sunday morning.

All Sunday flights were canceled out of New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport, contributing to long security lines Saturday and prompting airport officials to ask that only confirmed passengers go to the airport.

By Friday evening, Kane was busy planning with three friends to leave first thing Saturday morning. The four students hopped in a car and headed to Florida, where a friend’s aunt offered use of her condo.

“I’m really worried for New Orleans and the people there,” Kane said. “I hope the hurricane does not do too much damage, but it’s the kind of thing that you don’t know until it happens.”

MK Guthrie, a post-graduate student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said she was trying to stay positive as she packed up her clothes, cat and dog and headed to her parent’s home in Atlanta. Luckily, Guthrie had filled her car's gas tank earlier in the week before "all hell broke loose" at gas stations.

"It was slammed yesterday," she said. "I'm lucky I had gas and a plan."

Guthrie spent a few hours Friday packing up perishables in her refrigerator and preparing for the long drive to Georgia. It was grueling with two pets in the car, but it immediately felt like the right choice.

“My animals get anxious when a drop of rain falls outside," she joked. "All my friends were already leaving, classes were canceled, we probably won't have power for days."

Jody Boudreux, a tour guide and pedicab driver in the French Quarter, initially wavered on whether she would evacuate her Jefferson Parish home. It’s not in an area prone to flooding and Boudreux, a New Orleans native, is no stranger to hurricanes.

But by Friday evening, as news reports became increasingly dire, Boudreux started to panic. She hated the idea of sitting alone inside her home, listening to the hurricane pound her windows “for hours and hours.” She remembered stories from loved ones about sleeping with rifles nearby during Hurricane Katrina and she worried that power could be out for days if not weeks.

With that mind, Boudreux began to plan. Her first option, to drive to Florida with a friend, didn’t seem like a good idea considering South Florida would likely be hit by thunderstorms because of the hurricane. Then she weighed going to stay with her sister in Ohio, but the drive would take at least 13 hours.

Boudreux settled on an unlikely third option. A friend needed help getting her friends out of New Orleans after their flight home to Washington, D.C., was canceled. Boudreux volunteered to pick up the two strangers on her way out of the city. They met over the phone and agreed to leave New Orleans early Saturday morning.

“They were a godsend to me,” Boudreux said. “They mobilized me to go.”

Boudreux packed one suitcase, her son’s two cats, treasured photos and important personal documents and headed to Nashville, where she will ride out Hurricane Ida. She worries for her mother, who suffers from dementia at an assisted living facility that had been locked down because of the storm.

“A lot of people in New Orleans don’t have two nickels to rub together, much less go on an extended vacation,” she said. “I’m lucky. I’ve got savings. I have money.”