Hurricane Delta strengthens as it heads toward Louisiana

For the sixth time in the Atlantic hurricane season, people in Louisiana are once more fleeing the state’s barrier islands and sailing boats to safe harbour while emergency officials ramp up command centres and consider ordering evacuations.

The storm being watched Wednesday was Hurricane Delta, the 25th named storm of the Atlantic’s unprecedented hurricane season. Forecasts placed most of Louisiana within Delta’s path, with the latest National Hurricane Center estimating landfall in the state on Friday.

The centre’s forecasters warned of winds that could gust well above 160 km/h and up to 3.4 metres of ocean water potentially rushing onshore when the storm’s centre hits land.

“This season has been relentless,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, dusting off his now common refrain of 2020 – “Prepare for the worst. Pray for the best.”

A Category 2 hurricane again

Delta strengthened back into a Category 2 hurricane early Thursday after a hurricane warning was issued for a stretch of the northern U.S. Gulf Coast. Some weakening is forecast once Delta approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Friday, when the National Hurricane Center predicted hurricane conditions would begin in parts of the area. The centre said Delta is expected to become a major hurricane again, like it was days earlier before hitting the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday.

So far, Louisiana has seen both major strikes and near misses. The southwest area of the state around Lake Charles, which forecasts show is on Delta’s current trajectory, is still recovering from an Aug. 27 landfall by Category 4 Hurricane Laura.

Thousands still out of their homes

Nearly six weeks later, some 5,600 people remain in New Orleans hotels because their homes are too damaged to occupy. Trees, roofs and other debris left in Laura’s wake still sit by roadsides in the Lake Charles area waiting for pickup even as forecasters warned that Delta could be a larger than average storm.

New Orleans spent a few days last month bracing for Hurricane Sally before it skirted to the east, making landfall in Alabama on Sept. 16.

Edwards said President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a federal emergency declaration in advance for the state. The Democratic governor said he doesn’t expect widespread mandatory evacuations.

But Edwards said Wednesday that Delta is moving fast, so hurricane force winds could reach well inland, and expected heavy rains could cause flooding.

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