MIAMI – LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Hurricane Delta made landfall in southwestern Louisiana as a Category 2 storm Friday, compounding misery along a path of destruction left by Hurricane Laura only six weeks earlier.
The center of the hurricane blew ashore about 6 p.m. near the town of Creole with top winds of 100 mph (155 kph), pushing a storm surge that could reach up to 11 feet (3.4 meters), the National Hurricane Center said.
People in south Louisiana steeled themselves as Delta delivered bands of rain, strong winds and rising water as the storm neared landfall in a part of the state still recovering from a deadly catastrophic hurricane six weeks ago.
In the city of Lake Charles, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) inland from where Delta made landfall, rain pelted the tarp-covered roofs of buildings that Hurricane Laura battered when it barreled through 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.
Delta weakened to a Category 2 storm with maximum winds of 100 mph (169 km/h) Friday evening.
Forecasters reported 7 feet (2 meters) of storm surge east of Cameron, a sparely populated coastal community devastated by 2005′s Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike in 2008, and warned that some areas could see water reach 11 feet (3.3 meters) above ground along the Louisiana coast.
As Delta approached, winds picked up in inland areas such as Lafayette, where occasionally strong gusts buffeted trees and sheets of rain were falling. Many parishes and towns implemented curfews Friday until Saturday morning to encourage people to stay off the roads during the worst of the storm.
Dawn Trosclair checked into a hotel Friday, worried about trees falling on her home in Lafayette.
“No other storm really threatened us,” Trosclair said as she watched the gusting winds. “Laura was far enough away and the winds were going to be mild enough here where we didn’t leave.”
Laura damaged about 95% of the homes and buildings in Lake Charles, while up to 8,000 residents — 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.
Earlier Friday, it had sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph), putting it at Category 3 strength. Though the storm weakened as it approached land, officials 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.
This week marked the sixth time of the current season that Louisiana has been threatened by tropical storms or hurricanes. One, Tropical Storm Marco, fizzled as it hit the southeast Louisiana tip, and others veered elsewhere, but Tropical Storm Cristobal caused damage in southeast Louisiana in June.
New Orleans, to the east, was expected to escape Delta’s worst. But tropical storm-force winds were still likely in the city Friday, and local officials said they were preparing for the possibility of tornadoes.
In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency, as did his counterpart Edwards in Louisiana. Forecasters said southern Mississippi could see heavy rain and flash flooding.
The hurricane was expected to weaken rapidly over land. Forecasters predicted Delta would be downgraded to a tropical storm late Friday. The storm’s projected path showed it moving into northern Mississippi on Saturday and then into the Tennessee Valley as a tropical depression.