By REBECCA SANTANA and STACEY PLAISANCE Associated Press
ABBEVILLE, La. (AP) — Boarded windows and empty sidewalks made parts of Louisiana’s Acadiana region look like empty movie sets as major Hurricane Delta roared ever closer to the U.S. Gulf coast, apparently on track to smash into the same southwestern part of the state where Hurricane Laura blasted ashore six weeks ago.
Forecasters said the 25th named storm of an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season would likely crash ashore Friday evening somewhere on southwest Louisiana’s coast. The question was whether Delta would remain at devastating Category 3 strength, with top winds of 120 mph (195 kph) early Friday, or drop just before landfall to a still extremely dangerous Category 2 storm.
Either way, Delta is such a large hurricane that the storm surge risk remains high even if it becomes less intense just before striking land, the National Hurricane Center said.
People in this battered coastal region were taking Delta seriously.
“You can always get another house another car but not another life,” said Hilton Stroder as he and his wife Terry boarded up their Abbeville home with plans to head to their son’s house further east.
As Delta churned north at 12 mph (19 kph) on Friday morning, the National Hurricane Center had a hurricane warning in place for the Gulf Coast extending from High Island, Texas, to Morgan City. Shortly after dawn, the first tropical storm-force winds were reaching the coast, even as the eye of the hurricane was about 160 miles (255 kilometers) south of Cameron.
It marked the sixth time this season that Louisiana has been threatened by tropical storms or hurricanes. One fizzled at the southeast Louisiana tip and others veered elsewhere but Tropical Storm Cristobal caused damage in southeast Louisiana in June. And Laura demolished much of the southwestern part of the state on Aug. 27, causing more than 30 deaths.
Life wasn’t at a complete standstill though. A gas station was doing steady business as people filled their cars and spare gasoline cans and a grocery store served last customers stocking up. Similar scenes played out not far away in New Iberia, where the few signs of life included cars lined up at a drive-thru daquiri shop and people grabbing food at take-out restaurants.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards noted in a radio show that Delta appeared headed for the area near the Texas state line that was devastated by Laura, including Lake Charles and surrounding Calcasieu Parish, and rural Cameron Parish on the coast. “And we’ve got people who are very tired,” he noted.
“People of Lake Charles and in Cameron Parish have already suffered enough, and then here comes this one,” said Desi Milligan, who owns an RV park in Cameron that was heavily damaged by Laura.
People in the disaster zone had unusual clarity about the damage Delta’s storm surge could cause. It was predicted to reach as high as 11 feet (3.4 meters) along a stretch from the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge near the Texas state line to Morgan City, Louisiana. Laura — which made landfall in the same area on Aug. 27 as a Category 4 hurricane with top winds of 150 mph (240 kph) — pushed a storm surge that reached 12 feet (4 meters), Edwards said.
Reminders of Laura’s danger are everywhere in the region. In nearby Bell City, some debris piles are more than 6 feet (2 meters) high and 75 feet (23 meters) long. Concerns mounted Friday that Delta’s arrival would cause the debris to become airborne, deadly projectiles.
Though homes and farmhouses in the area still stood, blue tarms covered many rooftops with lingering damage from Laura. In Cameron Parish, power poles along Highway 27 in a desolate stretch of marsh were all either broken or leaning — none appeared to have been repaired since the August storm.
A few miles down the road, Creole presented a scene of utter devastation under an overcast sky that soon gave way to pouring rain. Where there used to be buildings, exposed slabs remained. A church and a convenience store had been reduced to debris, and fences were blown over or completely torn down.
Delta had already clipped Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 2 hurricane just south of the resort city of Cancún early Wednesday, bringing high winds and heavy rain. No deaths or injuries were reported there.
New Orleans, well east of the projected landfall area, was expected to escape Delta’s worst impacts. But tropical storm force winds were still likely in the city on Friday, and local officials said they were preparing for the possibility of tornadoes.
And in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency like his counterpart Edwards did in Louisiana. Forecasters said southern Mississippi could see heavy rain and flash flooding.
In Abbeville, Tony Russo was loading up on groceries late Thursday. “I don’t know really any different,” he replied when asked his reaction to the busy storm season. “You’re here. If you love it you stay,“ he said. But he added with a chuckle: “2020 has been a hell of a year.”
Plaisance reported from New Iberia, Louisiana. Associated Press contributors include Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Gerald Herbert in Lake Charles, Louisiana; Kevin McGill in New Orleans; and Leah Willingham in Jackson, Mississippi.
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