LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — People in south Louisiana steeled themselves Friday as Hurricane Delta delivered bands of rain, strong winds and rising water ahead of its expected arrival in a part of the state still recovering from a deadly catastrophic hurricane six weeks ago.
In the city of Lake Charles, located about 30 miles inland from where Delta was expected to make landfall, rain pelted the tarp-covered roofs of buildings that Hurricane Laura battered when it barreled through Louisiana in late August and killed at least 27 people in the state.
“It’s devastating and it’s emotional for the citizenry,” Mayor Nic Hunter said as he prepared to ride out the storm in downtown Lake Charles.
At 4 p.m., Delta moving at 14 miles per hour and 35 miles (80kilometers) south of Cameron, Louisiana, a sparely populated coastal community devastated by 2005′s Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Forecasters said the storm surge could reach as high as 11 feet along the Louisiana coast. With landfall within hours, the National Hurricane Center reported 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) of storm surge had been measured on the coast east of Cameron.
Laura damaged about 95% of the homes and buildings in Lake Charles, while up to 8,000 residents – or 10% of the population – remain displaced, the mayor said. Piles of moldy mattresses, sawed-up trees and other leftover debris lined the city’s largely vacant streets Friday, arousing concern they could cause more damage and deaths when the new storm strikes.
“We just got lights back on like two weeks ago and then evacuating again? It’s extremely hard,” said Roslyn Kennedy. She was among a handful of evacuees at the Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles, waiting to be transported, again, to safer destinations.
Forecasters said the 25th named storm of an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season would likely crash ashore Friday evening somewhere on southwest Louisiana’s coast. Hurricane warnings stretched from High Island, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana.
The question was how powerful Delta would be by the time it makes landfall. In its latest update Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said Delta had continued to weaken and become a strong Category 2 storm with winds of 100 mph (169 kph) as it neared the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Earlier Friday, it had sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph), putting it at Category 3 strength.
Forecasters have said they expect the weakening trend to continue until Delta makes landfall, but they cautioned that it remained dangerous.
“The fact that it’s weakening should not cause anyone to lose focus or lose vigilance, because this is still a very strong storm,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a news conference.
Some residents were staying put, despite the danger. Ernest Jack remained in his Lake Charles house, one of those with a blue-tarped roof. He had gathered food, plenty of water and had covered his windows to protect against flying debris during Delta.
“I just didn’t want to leave. I stayed during Hurricane Laura, too. I just put it in the Lord’s hands,” Jack said, pointing skyward.
Delta, the latest in a recent flurry of rapidly intensifying Atlantic hurricanes that scientists largely blame on global warming, appeared destined to set records at landfall. It would be the 10th named storm to hit the continental United States this year, surpassing the number that hit in 1916, according to Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Delta would also be the first Greek-alphabet-named hurricane to hit the continental U.S. And as the fourth hurricane or tropical storm to hit Louisiana in a year, it would tie a 2002 record, Klotzbach said.
Concern wasn’t limited to the Lake Charles and Cameron Parish areas, where Laura came ashore in late August. Further east, in Acadiana region towns like New Iberia and Abbeville, people took the storm 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 Thursday night with plans to head to their son’s house further east.