Forecasters warned that the storm could blow ashore Oct. 9 with winds of up to 100 mph and a storm surge of up to 11 feet. They placed most of Louisiana within Delta’s path, including the southwest area of the state around Lake Charles, where Category 4 Hurricane Laura ripped houses from their foundations, peeled off roofs, and tore trailers in half on Aug. 27.
Nearly six weeks later, 5,600 people remain in New Orleans hotels because their homes are too damaged to occupy. Trees, roofs, and other debris left in Laura’s wake still sit along roadsides.
The large majority of structures damaged by Laura haven’t been permanently repaired, Gov. John Bel Edwards noted on Oct. 7.
“All that debris could become missiles in really strong wind,” said Edwards, who also worried about the “sheer anxiety” the storm could cause already traumatized residents.
“We don’t want a hurricane to hit anywhere, but we know that the area that is least prepared and ready for a storm happens to be southwest Louisiana,” he said.
Edwards said President Donald Trump approved his request to declare a federal emergency, which frees up federal resources. This is the sixth time in the Atlantic hurricane season that people in Louisiana have been forced to flee the state’s barrier islands and sail boats to safe harbor while emergency officials ramp up command centers and consider ordering evacuations.
Hurricane Delta is the 25th named storm of the Atlantic’s unprecedented hurricane season. Delta hit Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane just south of the resort city of Cancun early Oct. 7 with high winds and heavy rain, cutting power to more than 260,000 customers and forcing tourists into storm shelters. No deaths or injuries were reported.
The storm weakened to a Category 1 storm, but had already restrengthened to a Category 2 by early Oct. 8, with sustained winds near 100 mph. The storm was expected to become a major hurricane by late Oct. 8, with some weakening forecast once Delta approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Oct. 9.
In Sulphur, across the Calcasieu River from Lake Charles, Ben Reynolds was deciding on Oct. 7 whether to leave or stay. He had to use a generator for power for a week after Hurricane Laura.
“It’s depressing,” Reynolds said. “It’s scary as hell.”
While New Orleans has been mostly spared by the weather and found itself outside Delta’s cone, constant vigilance and months as a COVID-19 hot spot have strained a vulnerable city still scarred by memories of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Delta’s shifting forecast track likely meant no need for a major evacuation, but the city’s emergency officials were on alert.
“We’ve had five near misses. We need to watch this one very, very closely,” New Orleans Emergency Director Collin Arnold said.
Along with getting hit by Hurricane Laura and escaping Hurricane Sally, Louisiana saw heavy flooding June 7 from Tropical Storm Cristobal. Tropical Storm Beta prompted tropical storm warnings in mid-September as it slowly crawled up the northeast Texas coast.
Tropical Storm Marco looked like it might deliver the first half of a hurricane double-blow with Laura, but nearly dissipated before hitting the state near the mouth of the Mississippi River on Aug. 24.
There are nearly eight weeks of hurricane season left, although forecasters at the National Weather Service office in New Orleans noted in a discussion about this week’s forecast that, outside of Delta, the skies above the Gulf of Mexico look calm.
“Not seeing any signs of any additional tropical weather in the extended, which is OK with us because we are SO DONE with Hurricane Season 2020,” they wrote.