Hurricane Delta has weakened to a Category 2 Hurricane as it nears the coast of Southwest Louisiana, but forecasters and Gov. John Bel Edwards are urging people not to let their guards down.
“The fact that [Hurricane Delta] is weakening shouldn’t cause anyone to lose focus or to lose vigilance, because this is still a strong storm that is going to bring significant impacts to the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said at his last media briefing before the storm’s expected landfall Friday evening.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, Delta was located just 35 miles south of Cameron, Louisiana, and moving toward the coast at about 14 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Hurricane-force winds extend “up to 40 miles” from Delta’s center, and tropical storm-force winds extend about 160 miles outward.
The NHC reported maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour, and said Hurricane Delta could weaken a bit more before the storm’s eye moves over land, the NHC said.
Still, life-threatening impacts are expected as it moves ashore — including peak storm surge of 7-11 feet somewhere between the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge and Morgan City, Louisiana. Heavy rainfall is also expected to cause “significant flash flooding” Friday and Saturday, as well as river flooding.
Residents of Southwest Louisiana, who are still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Laura, seem to be heeding that advice.
Communities from the Texas state line to Lafayette were largely deserted Friday morning. People that remained spent the day securing tarps over homes that lost roofs and windows from when Laura tore through the area as a Category 4 storm in late August.
Several Southwest Louisiana parishes are under mandatory evacuation orders, but by Friday afternoon state officials urged everyone still in Delta’s path to stay put.
The state is sheltering more than 800 people who have fled Hurricane Delta. They join approximately 8,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees who are being sheltered in hotels across Louisiana and Texas.
The state is temporarily sheltering the newcomers in large-scale congregate shelters in Alexandria, Bastrop and Shreveport that are operating at reduced capacity to allow for safe social distancing.
In August, the state and federal government took the unprecedented step of putting evacuees in hotel rooms, where the risk of spreading the coronavirus is minimized, before Hurricane Laura made landfall.
But with thousands of Southwest Louisiana residents still displaced from Hurricane Laura and forecasters predicting a much weaker storm, Edwards said the state can safely shelter the evacuees in modified congregate settings.
Once the storm has passed through the area, evacuees can assess the damage to their homes and determine if they would need long-term shelter
“Those individuals who can go home will go home, those that cannot will be put in non-congregate shelters — in hotels,” Edwards said.
The state still has contracts with 12 hotels in the New Orleans area and state officials said they have between 3,500 and 5,000 rooms available for Hurricane Delta evacuees.
Areas of Southeast Louisiana have already experienced heavy rains and flash flooding from the outer bands of Hurricane Delta.
Zachary and Central, La. have already received as much as 9 inches of rain from the storm’s outer bands. City-Parish officials said Friday that they responded to 14 calls for assistance from motorists stalled in high water and nine calls from people who needed assistance to escape their flooded homes overnight.
The Louisiana National Guard have activated more than 2,500 guardsmen in support of emergency operations. They will provide logistical support, and assist other state agencies in search and rescue operations, using high-water rescue vehicles, boats, and aircraft.
Edwards said even though Hurricane Delta is not expected to be as powerful as Hurricane Laura, the National Guard’s mission remains unchanged.
“It’s search and rescue with high-water vehicles, with boats and also with aircraft,” Edwards said. “It’s making sure that our warehouses, tarps, and food and water and other things that are coming from the federal government. It’s setting up convoys… to conduct about 14 points of distribution tomorrow.”
Brigadier General Lee Hopkins of the National Guard said the goal is to “alleviate suffering” as quickly as possible.
While power has been restored to nearly all the homes and businesses impacted by Hurricane Laura, excluding those in Cameron Parish, Edwards said the region’s battered electrical infrastructure is still vulnerable to severe damage from the weaker Hurricane Delta.
Nearly 7,000 utility linemen are staged within the state and ready to quickly enter the storm-damaged area to restore power, Edwards said. An additional 7,000 utility workers from out of state are standing by.
“We’re nowhere close to being fully recovered,” Edwards said. “This is a very tough time, but we also know the people of Louisiana and of Southwest Louisiana are very tough and resilient and faithful, and we’re going to get through this.”
NPR Southwest Correspondent John Burnett contributed to this report.