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Gulf States Brace for Yet Another Hurricane

Alabama

The governors of Alabama and Mississippi have declared states of emergency, while some parishes in Louisiana are under mandatory evacuation orders.

NEW ORLEANS — States along the Gulf Coast were under storm warnings and watches on Thursday as Hurricane Delta, which mostly spared Mexico on Wednesday, churned north, prompting mandatory evacuations and other preparations in a region that has wearily endured multiple hurricanes and tropical storms in an especially active season.

Delta, now a Category 2 storm, had maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour and was about 400 miles south of Cameron, La., according to an 11 a.m. Eastern time advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane conditions and a life-threatening storm surge were expected to begin affecting the northern Gulf Coast on Friday.

A hurricane warning was in effect from High Island, Texas, to Morgan City, La., and wind and storm surge warnings and watches were in place for several more areas along the Gulf Coast region, the center said.

This year’s record-setting hurricane season has been particularly brutal for Louisiana, which has been in the path of six major storms since June. Still, it takes a lot to rattle Walter Heathcock, a fishing guide in Boothville, a tiny community in the southernmost toe of the state.

When early tracking maps predicted that Hurricane Sally, which made landfall on Sept. 11, would strike Louisiana, Mr. Heathcock spent hours drinking beers and checking the water level rising against a homemade gauge he had stuck into the sand at the Gulf of Mexico’s edge.

That storm eventually struck Alabama, and Mr. Heathcock and his home were safe.

This time, however, when forecasters on Tuesday suggested Delta could strengthen to a Category 4 or 5 storm before making landfall, Mr. Heathcock began preparations early.

“I went into full-on get-ready-to-get-the-hell-out of here mode, so I had boats strapped to trailers, four-wheelers ready to go in the back of the truck,” Mr. Heathcock said.

But then, Delta’s track shifted west, and he decided to wait it out a bit longer.

On Thursday morning, it continued gaining strength over the Gulf’s warm waters after first making landfall in southeastern Mexico near the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula early Wednesday, knocking out power, felling trees, shattering windows, and causing scattered flooding in cities and towns along the Caribbean coast. But regional and federal officials said they had received no reports of deaths.

As it crossed the peninsula and moved into the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, visitors and residents of the region breathed a sigh of relief as the hurricane delivered a lesser punch than many there had feared.

The hurricane, which had grown to a Category 4 before weakening, could strengthen again into a Category 3 as it moves across the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday. It could possibly diminish again to a Category 2 as it nears landfall along the Louisiana coastline on Friday afternoon or evening, said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

“What folks need to realize is wind and water impacts are well away from the center,” he said. “In fact, the storm’s wind field is expanding with time. Wind and water impacts will be felt beginning tomorrow morning.”

It has been a brutal year for hurricanes on the U.S. Gulf Coast, which was heavily battered by Laura in late August and Sally in September. Those storms had caused extensive property damage and several deaths.

When Hurricane Laura slashed a line of devastation across the southwest part of Louisiana, Janice Duren, 47, found a safe haven at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans. One of thousands of evacuees from Lake Charles who boarded a state-sponsored bus out of Laura’s path, Ms. Duren has since felt trapped in a kind of limbo as she bounces between phone calls with various government agencies, insurance companies and nonprofits. Two trees fell through the home she shares with her husband, and she has been left with nowhere to go and a dwindling bank account.

“And we’re fixing to get hit again. You might as well hang it up,” Ms. Duren said. “It looks like somebody put a bomb off down there,” she said of Lake Charles.

“And you turn around and put another hurricane on top of that?” she added. “It’ll be double the trouble, but we don’t have half the help we need.”

As of Wednesday evening, 6,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees remained sheltered across Louisiana, with another 2,161 in Texas hotels, according to a spokeswoman with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

“We know what hurricane fatigue is all about and unfortunately, the northern Gulf Coast is experiencing that this year,” Mr. Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center said. Delta will be the seventh named storm and the fourth hurricane to hit the area this year.

“That’s a lot of fatigue and it’s certainly understandable,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t prepare for the next one.”

While Louisiana largely avoided wide-scale destruction from Cristobal, Marco, Sally and Beta, each storm brought to the area a fresh round of evacuations and fear.

Delta was expected to produce up to 15 inches of rain across the southwest into south central Louisiana from Friday through Saturday. Tornadoes were possible from late Thursday into Friday over southern parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama both declared states of emergency on Tuesday. The next day, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi also declared a state of emergency, telling residents: “Prep for the worst. Pray for the best.”

Mr. Edwards said on Wednesday that President Trump had approved Louisiana’s request for federal emergency declaration before the storm hit. The declaration authorizes FEMA Public Assistance to support the state’s response to Hurricane Delta.

At least three parishes in Louisiana were under a mandatory evacuation, including Calcasieu Parish, Cameron Parish and Jeff Davis Parish. Several more parishes were under a voluntary evacuation.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Wednesday that the state was providing resources needed to respond to the storm.

In Mississippi, emergency officials sent 160,000 sandbags to several counties along the Gulf Coast including Harrison, Hancock and Jackson, and said there were nine shelters ready to open if needed.

College football officials said on Wednesday that Saturday’s game between Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri would be moved from Baton Rouge, La., to Columbia, Mo. The Southeastern Conference, whose membership includes both schools as well as 12 other universities, also left open the possibility that the storm would affect other athletic events in the coming days.

This hurricane season has been one of the most active on record.

Last month, meteorologists ran out of names after a storm named Wilfred formed in the Atlantic. Subtropical storm Alpha, the first of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, quickly formed thereafter, becoming the 22nd named storm since May.

 

This article was originally published on nytimes.com

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