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Hurricane Ida is expected to rapidly strengthen before pummeling Louisiana on Sunday, forcing evacuations in New Orleans and the surrounding coastal region on the eve of the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

On Saturday, Ida was moving away from Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico, where it is expected to intensify over the next 24 to 36 hours prior to landfall across the Louisiana coast on Sunday afternoon or evening. Recent satellite imagery showed the storm has already strengthened.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Saturday warned residents planning to voluntarily evacuate – which she recommended – to get out now.

“Time is not on our side. It’s just rapidly growing. It’s intensifying,” the mayor said at a news conference, referring to Ida. “If you’re voluntarily evacuating our city, now is the time to leave – you need to do so immediately. If you’re planning to ride it out, again, make sure that you’re able to hunker down.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Ida “will be one of the strongest hurricanes that hit anywhere in Louisiana since at least the 1850s.”

“This is a very large storm,” Edwards told reporters Saturday, noting that the hurricane could span about 150 miles east and west from the storm’s center.

“I don’t want folks who are further inland to be caught off guard.”

Over 4,000 soldiers and airmen with the Louisiana National Guard are currently mobilized and another 5,000 will be prepared by the time the storm makes landfall, Edwards told CNN Saturday afternoon.

“You just have a few more hours really to prepare,” Edwards said.

“Where you go to bed tonight, you need to be prepared to ride out the storm and the storm is going to be very severe,” he told those who are not evacuating.

‘An extremely dangerous major hurricane’

Ida is anticipated to reach at least Category 4 strength before landfall, the National Hurricane Center said, maintaining its earlier forecast. Tropical storm-force winds could reach New Orleans about 8 a.m. Sunday before the storm makes landfall that afternoon or evening west of New Orleans, near Houma and Morgan City. Late Saturday afternoon, meteorologists at the center said the storm appears to have begun its intensification phase.

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Hurricane Ida remains a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph with stronger gusts, according to the 11 p.m. National Hurricane Center update. Rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 12 to 24 hours and Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it makes landfall along the Louisiana coast on Sunday.

“Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday,” National Hurricane Center forecasters said Saturday morning. At 2 p.m. ET, the storm had strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph.

Officials throughout the state implored people to evacuate, with some issuing mandatory orders to do so. News footage from the area showed traffic backed up heading out of New Orleans.

Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, urged people to stock up on enough food and water for at least three days – and to be either on the road or home by midnight.

“We say the first 72 (hours) is on you,” Arnold added. “The first three days of this will be difficult for responders to get to you.”

In text alerts Saturday, New Orleans officials urged residents to “leave by this morning if you can.”

“If you’re staying, gather supplies, charge devices, lower fridge temp & secure outdoor items today,” the message said.

State officials also texted residents: “Get ready for Ida.”

“Louisianans have until nightfall,” the text warned, adding that Ida will “bring serious impact