Hurricane Ida Kills 124 in El Salvador; Heading for Gulf Oil Fields and U.S.

November 9, 2009

Hurricane Ida headed toward oil and gas facilities in the central Gulf of Mexico on Monday on a path to the U.S. Gulf Coast after killing 124 people in El Salvador following floods and mudslides.

U.S. oil companies were shutting production and evacuating workers from the Gulf in the face of Ida, a Category 2 storm with top sustained winds near 105 mph (165 kph). Oil rose more than $1 to above $78 a barrel on Monday on fears of the hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Ida was expected to weaken but would likely remain a hurricane as it approached the northern Gulf Coast on Monday night or early on Tuesday. It was forecast to hit somewhere between Louisiana and Florida.

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 U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas are produced from fields in the Gulf and the coast is home to 40 percent 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 NHC 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.

At 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT), Ida was 340 miles (547 km) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and was moving north-northwest near 15 mph (24 kph), the NHC said. Ida was expected to turn toward the north and move faster toward the Gulf Coast before veering off to the northeast on Tuesday.

Ida swept past the Mexican resort of Cancun on Sunday, doing little damage to the city.

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.

(Additional reporting by Jose Cortazar and Michael O’Boyle in Cancun, Ivan Castro in Managua and Erwin Seba in Houston; Writing by Peter Cooney; Editing by Alison Williams)

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