Mid-Week Digest 09/02/21

Hurricane Ida devastates the southern US and Two weaponized drones hit Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia

Southern US: Hurricane Ida devastates Louisiana, leaves widespread structural damage and casualties in three southern states

On August 29, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 miles per hour, resulting in significant property damage, downed power lines, and flooding. Ida downgraded to a tropical depression on August 31 and continued to weaken as it moved through Mississippi. One of the strongest storms to hit the state in over a decade, the storm left the City of New Orleans virtually without electricity by Sunday night, with over 1 million outages reported in the state. Power and utilities are not expected to be restored for at least 21 days due to the extensive damage to the transmission station responsible for the area and debris preventing access. Mississippi residents were also impacted by approximately 45,000 power outages. According to a private consulting firm, over 1,312,650 properties were affected in Louisiana and nearly 313,170 others in Mississippi in the wake of the storm. Early reports indicate at least $40 billion in property damage, primarily in coastal Louisiana. The storm is one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the US Gulf Coast and was the strongest test to the new levee system installed after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 that flooded most of New Orleans, resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,800 people and caused $81 billion in estimated property damage.

Ida left at least four people dead in Louisiana and Mississippi, and two electric workers were killed while repairing power grid damage in Alabama. The death toll is likely to rise as flooding and debris on roadways complicate rescue and recovery efforts. Texas and Florida have deployed rescue teams to assist the Louisiana National Guard and other local teams in urban search and rescue operations. Though the Port of New Orleans has reopened, energy companies in the state have not yet resumed operations, which will likely result in additional economic losses. An increase in property crime and looting is possible in the affected areas until utilities are restored; a similar trend was observed following Hurricane Katrina when the impacted regions witnessed an increase in criminal activity due to the limited supply of fresh water and power outages.


Saudi Arabia: Two weaponized drones target Abha International Airport

On August 31, at least eight people were injured and one civilian aircraft was damaged at Abha International Airport – located in southwestern Saudi Arabia about 75 miles from the Yemeni border – following two weaponized drone attacks targeting the location in less than 24 hours. All casualties, including one person who was critically injured, were attributed to the detonation of a remotely piloted drone laden with explosive materials. According to official sources, the drone was “intercepted and shot down.” However, the blast dispersed shrapnel that struck several people (including seven foreign nationals from Bangladesh, India, and Nepal), the airport terminal, and a Saudi Arabian Airlines passenger jet waiting on the tarmac. Several hours prior, Saudi defense forces had intercepted another weaponized drone targeting the airport; falling debris reportedly caused only minor damage to runways.

Officials claim that airport operations were briefly suspended following the incidents, and that normal flight operations have since resumed. No group or individual has yet claimed responsibility, though Saudi and foreign leaders have blamed Yemen-based Houthi rebels for carrying out the attacks. Houthis have launched multiple cross-border drone and ballistic missile attacks targeting the southern Saudi cities of Abha and Jizan during the long-running conflict in Yemen. Despite the frequency of these incidents, however, Saudi defense forces are generally capable of intercepting aerial threats, and civilian casualties are rare. While hostilities in Yemen have intensified in recent weeks, the relative severity of the attack at Abha Airport does not indicate a significant increase in the already high threat level facing civilians operating in southern Saudi Arabia.