Last night, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It was a Category 4 when it landed with 150 mph winds, but fell to a Category 2 by 10 pm. The hurricane caused incredible damage, taking down every transmission line delivery power to New Orleans. All told, there were over a million people in Louisiana and Mississippi without power last night.
As a result of the power loss, hundreds of thousands of households were told to limit their water usage, as lost power meant sewer pumps were unable to run, which increased the possibility of a storm surge. There were flash flood warnings and a tornado watch throughout the region, and over 10 inches of rainfall came down in an astoundingly short amount of time. For a brief moment, the Mississippi River reversed course. Hurricane Ida is now tied with Hurricane Laura and a hurricane from 1856 for the most powerful storm Louisiana has ever faced.
The loss of life due to this storm could be staggering. At least one person has been reported killed by the hurricane: they were struck by a fallen tree. However, our experience with hurricanes tells us that the wind and the water are not the worst problems residents could face in the coming weeks.
Hurricane Ida Bears Down on ‘Cancer Alley’
Days before Hurricane Ida made landfall, environmentalists and public safety experts were warning that it could carve a path along a corridor along the Mississippi River filled with hazardous chemical plants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge—a region nicknamed “Cancer Alley.” In total, about two-thirds of Louisiana’s industrial sites were in Ida’s path.
This is far from the first time that hurricane damage at chemical facilities have put communities at risk. In 2017, Arnold & Itkin investigated an Arkema plant in Houston for a chemical explosion that was ultimately triggered by Hurricane Harvey flooding. Nearly two dozen people were hospitalized by the fireball, which was caused by decomposing chemicals left unrefrigerated when the plant lost power. Just last year, Hurricane Laura ignited a fire caused by chlorine gas that burned for three days near Lake Charles, LA. However, perhaps the worst example is when Hurricane Katrina spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters surrounding New Orleans—a disaster equal to the Exxon Valdez spill.
The Root Cause of Chemical Plant Leaks & Explosions
While these events were certainly triggered by natural disasters, their root cause was in corporate negligence. Arkema could have installed generators to keep their refrigerators running for far longer in preparation for hurricane conditions, or they could have arranged to neutralize the chemicals prior to the storm making landfall. Every industrial accident our chemical plant leak attorneys have investigated has yielded the same result: chemical disasters are preventable. The only reason they happen is due to negligence.
Our firm will be keeping a close eye on the situation developing in Louisiana as officials tally the damage from Hurricane Ida. We’re fully prepared to hold chemical companies accountable if they’ve inadvertently harmed the communities along the Mississippi River.