Hurricane Delta hours out from record breaking landfall in Louisiana

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Louisiana coast is bracing for Hurricane Delta, which strengthened into a Category 3 storm Thursday night and bears a similar track to Hurricane Laura, which battered the southwestern part of the state in August.

The wind from Delta will be accompanied by heavy rain and a life-threatening storm surge. A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from High Island, Texas, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Delta is located about 200 miles south of Cameron, Louisiana as of Thursday at 5 a.m. EST. Moving north at 12 mph, the storm carries sustained winds of 120 mph with gusts up to 150 mph.

It was a Category 2 storm earlier in the day Thursday but grew stronger and became a Category 3 around 5 p.m. Delta is expected to turn northeast later Friday before making landfall.

That landfall is going to be a record setting event. Until now, Greek letter named storm has ever made landfall in the United States. Plus, if it does officially hit Louisiana, it will be the fourth named storm to do so this year–something that has never happened before.

Thankfully, the storm is expected to keep moving quickly. So while it may still pack quite the punch when it does make landfall, it is not expected to linger over Louisiana.

Still, the rain is going to fall in bunches. The National Weather Service is warning Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and others that significant flash flooding is likely.

Wednesday, the storm made landfall about 10 miles south of Cancun, Mexico as a category 2 storm. It knocked out power to about 266,000 people, but no deaths were reported.

IN THE MIDDLE OF A HURRICANE: Storm chaser takes us inside Delta

Boarded windows and empty sidewalks made parts of Louisiana’s Acadiana region look like empty movie sets Thursday as Delta moved closer, apparently on track to smash into the same southwestern part of the state where Hurricane Laura blasted ashore six weeks ago.

Forecasters said Delta – the 25th named storm of an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season – would likely crash ashore Friday evening somewhere on southwest Louisiana’s coast.

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.

This is 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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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