As Hurricane Delta marches toward Louisiana's coast, forecasters and local officials warned Wednesday that the Baton Rouge area could be struck with heavy rains and, for the first time in 12 years, hurricane-force winds capable of causing significant damage.

Delta is expected to smash ashore Friday morning along Louisiana’s coastline as a Category 2 or 3 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. As it moves inland, the storm will veer northeast, bringing the chance of powerful winds to the Baton Rouge region, though the exact path could change.

Baton Rouge has a 24% chance of experiencing hurricane-force winds, the Hurricane Center said, which would be the first time the region saw winds at that speed since 2008's Hurricane Gustav.

The region could see winds strong enough to damage roofs, severely damage mobile homes,  uproot large trees and knock out power, the National Weather Service wrote in a Wednesday afternoon advisory.

“Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks,” forecasters advised.

Weather conditions will likely be at their worst Friday afternoon and linger into Saturday morning in the Baton Rouge region, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Gilmore.

The region may also see a few sporadic tornados spin up during the day Friday. Though capable of causing damage, tornados that spawn from hurricane bands tend to be shorter-lived and weaker than those that form during thunderstorms.

Areas around the Lake Maurepas could start seeing surge impacts as early as Thursday night.

“If you’re under a (storm) watch you need to have preparations in place,” Gilmore said. “It could still move, and if it moves, impacts can change a lot more from there.”

Forecasters said the storm will impact Louisiana but the intensity may change as the storm creeps into open waters and approaches the state’s coast.

Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an emergency declaration Tuesday and several other parishes issued similar statements that allow governments to tap into state and federal resources.

FEMA had more than 300 responders deployed in support of Delta, as well as millions of meals and water and other supplies ready to fan out in the area, a spokeswoman said.

Several parishes opened sandbag locations, readied pumping systems, cleared culverts and prepared their response centers after issuing emergency declarations Wednesday afternoon.

Officials in West Baton Rouge Parish opened sandbag shelters as crews rode along canals to remove any potential blockages. Though heavy rains could lead to flooding in some areas, officials expressed greater concerns with damaging winds, especially since parishes on the west side of the Mississippi River will be closer to the storm’s forecasted path.

Ascension Parish readied its pumps to begin drawing water from waterways and could start drawing water out on Thursday.

Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment warned residents Wednesday to brace for heavy wind and rain and the risk of flash flooding. “Do not take this storm lightly,” he said.

Forecasters predict Baton Rouge could see up to 6 inches of rain, and Pointe Coupee and the Feliciana parishes could experience deluges of up to 8 inches, with higher amounts in some areas.

Some parishes, including Assumption, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge and the Feliciana parishes, could see wind gusts exceeding 100 mph as Delta pushes inland.

Assumption and southern Iberville parishes could see about a foot of storm surge but a significant worry will be potentially destructive winds.

Forecasters believe the storm will move quickly after making landfall, which reduces the chance of it stalling and dumping significant amounts of rain.

The Baton Rouge region has been largely spared during one of the most prolific hurricane seasons in recent history that’s seen the state brace for potential impacts six times. Still, it’s given parishes a head start on preparations ahead of Delta.

“Hopefully, it’ll come through here and get on out of here so we can clean up,” said Iberville Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Mark Migliaccio.

Staff writer David J. Mitchell contributed to this report.


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