Powerful winds, storm surge and as much as 15 inches of rain are in the forecast.
Louisiana, which has repeatedly been battered by storms this hurricane season, is preparing for yet another: Hurricane Delta, which is expected to bring winds, heavy rain and life-threatening storm surge to portions of the northern Gulf Coast as it makes landfall on Friday evening.
Delta was about 95 miles south of Cameron, La., with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour with higher gusts, according to an advisory at 1 p.m. Eastern from the National Hurricane Center. The storm, which had grown as strong as a Category 4, is expected to weaken after it moves inland.
A storm surge warning was in effect for High Island, Texas, to Ocean Springs, Miss., while a hurricane warning was issued for High Island, Texas, to Morgan City, La., the center said.
Delta is forecast to produce as much as 15 inches of rain from southwest into south-central Louisiana through Saturday.
On Friday morning, the National Hurricane Center urged residents to be prepared for the storm’s arrival, noting that tropical storm force winds were soon expected to reach the coast, “making preparations dangerous or impossible to complete.”
A sprawling number of schools and local colleges in southern Louisiana were forced to close as several parishes were placed under either mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders, driving residents from their homes yet again this season.
Preparations for the storm were also underway in Mississippi, where emergency officials have sent 160,000 sandbags to several counties along the Gulf Coast including Harrison, Hancock and Jackson Counties, and 11 shelters were on standby.
On Friday morning, Duke Energy sent more than 300 workers from North Carolina and South Carolina to Louisiana to help respond to power outages. West of Lake Charles on Thursday, videos showed hundreds of cars lining the highway as residents evacuated the area.
As Delta moved steadily, and ominously, toward the Louisiana coast Friday morning, residents of Lafayette, the heart of the state’s Acadian culture, were busy with the drudgery of preparing, coming to the aid of their neighbors or fleeing northward.
According to a late-morning advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Delta could cut a northeasterly path once it comes inland, with the eye passing to the west of Lafayette.
That would put the city of 120,000 people on the more dangerous right side — sometimes called “the dirty side” of the hurricane. And even though Lafayette Parish has been under voluntary evacuation since midweek, many residents have chosen to ride it out.
There was a line out the door Friday morning at Rickey Meche’s Donut King near the center of town. At a Super 1 grocery store along the evacuation route, families walked out with cases of bottled water on Thursday afternoon. Plywood and composite boards were on display near the grocery store entrance, waiting to be nailed over the automatic doors.
Across the street in a lot next to a city-owned community center, half a dozen people filed into an ad hoc intake center operated by local housing advocates. They signed up with case managers who promised them rides on the midmorning caravan to a mega-shelter in Alexandria, about an hour and a half north along the hurricane evacuation route.
Betty Blaine, 57, stooped to coax her two mix-breed terriers — Creek and Angel — to drink from a yellow water bowl. She and her boyfriend, Troy Daigle, Jr., 56, waited for a squat paratransit bus to take them away.
The pair lived together in Lake Charles in a senior living high-rise called the Chateau Du Lac, which was shredded by Hurricane Laura in late August. After decamping to a Marriott in New Orleans, Ms. Blaine and Mr. Daigle packed west to Acadia Parish, between Lafayette and their native Lake Charles, to stay in a friend’s camper.
Unsafe there, they cast their lot with the critical transport caravan and the shelter in Alexandria.
“With these hurricanes, you don’t know what they going to do,” Mr. Daigle said through a disposable surgical mask. After they ride out the storm, they hope to return to the camper.
They figured it would be another seven to eight months before their apartment in Lake Charles was fixed up and habitable.
The Gulf Coast is still recovering after being battered by other storms.
In the United States, along a wide swath of the northern Gulf Coast, which was heavily battered by Laura in late August and Sally in September, life is still not back to normal. Those storms had caused extensive property damage and several deaths.
Hurricane Delta, the 25th named storm of the busy 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, could end up strafing Lake Charles, La., a city still recovering from Laura. Videos on social media showed that homes in the city damaged from Hurricane Laura still had not been repaired as Delta approached on Friday.
On Thursday, weary residents of this battered oil-patch city prepared, along with the rest of southwest Louisiana, for yet another round of serious trouble spinning up from the Gulf of Mexico.
Many of the blue tarps that cover damaged homes across the area may soon be whipped away by the wind, said Bryan C. Beam, the administrator of Calcasieu Parish, whose seat is Lake Charles. The debris along the roadsides may turn into flying projectiles. The choked-up drainage canals may overflow, creating new and dangerous flood patterns.
Electricity was finally restored in full last week — but homes could again be plunged into darkness, he said.
“It’s like a boxer going in the ring a few weeks later after getting pounded,” Mr. Beam said. “You can only take so much in a short period of time. We’re a very resilient people. But it’s very tough right now.”
Hurricane Delta has already hit southeastern Mexico near the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, making landfall there early Wednesday. The storm knocked out power, felled trees, shattered windows, and caused scattered flooding in cities and towns along the Caribbean coast. But regional and federal officials said they had received no reports of deaths.
Visitors and residents of the region breathed a sigh of relief that the storm, which had grown to a Category 4 before weakening, had delivered a lesser punch than many there had anticipated.
It’s been a busy hurricane season.
Last month, meteorologists ran out of names after a storm named Wilfred formed in the Atlantic. Subtropical storm Alpha, the first of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, formed quickly thereafter, becoming the 22nd named storm since May.
Louisiana has been in the path of six major storms since June, and along with the wildfires in the West, they have brought fresh attention to the effects of climate change, which has likely contributed to the intensity of the storms and the persistence and size of the fires.
The possibility that the climate crisis may have moved the United States into a troubling new era of incessant catastrophe was discussed, for a few minutes, during Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate, in which Vice President Mike Pence argued that “there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago.”
On Thursday, Suzana J. Camargo, a research professor in the division of ocean and climate physics at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said that judging hurricane seasons by the mere number of storms misses the point. Besides the fact that the actual number of storms could not be precisely tallied before the satellite era, “just talking about numbers is a little naïve,” she said, because of the issues of storm intensity, rainfall and surge.
Indeed, many scientists say that several aspects of climate change are making storms more destructive. James P. Kossin, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called the discussion of the number of storms a “red herring” since the trend toward more destructive storms is the more important factor. Climate change may even be reducing the number of weak storms through factors like increased wind shear.
Reporting was contributed by Chelsea Brasted, Richard Fausset, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Rick Rojas, John Schwartz and Derrick Bryson Taylor.