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Gov. John Bel Edwards smiles while talking about the hurdles that had to be overcome to get to this ceremony. Gov. John Bel Edwards and other officials attend a ceremonial groundbreaking on a project to move some 40 homeowners from their flood-plagued subdivision to a newly built neighborhood called Audubon Estates Tuesday Oct. 6, 2020, in New Roads, La. Residents will be moving from Pecan Acres, a subdivision that has flooded 17 times in the past 30 years. The groundbreaking site is north of Nelson Lane on La. 10.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday cautioned that Hurricane Delta was taking an eerily similar track to Hurricane Laura, as forecasters said they were confident storm-ravaged southwest Louisiana would be hit with another blow when the storm makes landfall Friday evening.

Edwards said at a Thursday afternoon briefing that the storm is moving more quickly than Hurricane Laura and will take a northeastern track after making landfall. But it will also make landfall “very very close” to where Hurricane Laura smashed ashore as a devastating Category 4 storm.

Hurricane Delta on Thursday strengthened to a Category 3, with winds at least of 130 miles per hour, and is expected to make landfall between Lake Charles and Lafayette as a Category 2.

“It is very clear that Southwest Louisiana is going to get more of a punch from this than we would like to see,” Edwards said.

Lake Charles to Lafayette should feel winds of about 110 miles per hour. Hurricane force wind gusts could be felt in Baton Rouge. Ben Schott, meteorologist-in-charge for the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said the state will benefit from wind shear weakening the storm as it makes landfall.

Unlike Laura, Edwards said Delta was moving more quickly, about 15 to 17 miles per hour, which could help mitigate the effects of heavy rainfall. Still, some areas could see heavy bands set up and dump rain, and parts of the coast were expected to see 7 to 11 feet of storm surge.

“I’m very hopeful the most impacted parts of Cameron and Calcasieu (parishes) will miss the brunt of the damage,” Edwards said on WWL-AM Radio. “Those structures have not yet been repaired. The electrical infrastructure there is in the process of being repaired.”

Schott said the wind field is expected to be large, meaning places as far away as Baton Rouge could see gusts of winds that reach hurricane strength. However, unlike Laura, which remained a hurricane all the way through Shreveport, Delta is expected to weaken more quickly.

“It’s still something that even here in Baton Rouge, significant impacts are possible,” Schott said.

He added the Weather Service is “highly confident” of the projected track, but the storm could jog 20-30 miles in either direction before landfall.

The White House granted Edwards’ federal disaster declaration ahead of landfall, and Edwards said that will allow the state to shelter evacuees in hotels instead of mega-shelters, part of the state’s ongoing strategy to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus when responding to storms. Louisiana was sheltering more than 6,900 evacuees Thursday, the vast majority of them from Hurricane Laura.

But until the storm passes, those evacuees that seek government help will likely be at parish- or state-run mega-shelters. Edwards said the shelters have been supplied with PPE and will distance people staying there, and they will be taken to hotels after the storm passes. 

Calcasieu Parish, the home of Lake Charles that was ravaged by Laura, issued a mandatory evacuation, along with Allen, Beauregard, Cameron and Jefferson Davis parishes. Parts of Iberia, Jefferson, St. Mary, Terrebonne and Vermillion parishes also issued mandatory evacuations.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said in a Facebook video Thursday morning that residents could go to city bus stops to be taken to shelters if they didn’t have the means to evacuate on their own. He also said it is “pretty much a guarantee at this point in Lake Charles, southwest Louisiana, we are going to feel some hurricane-force winds.”

“I cannot assure you Calcasieu Parish will be a safe place this weekend,” Hunter said. “In fact, I’m telling you I don’t think it will be a safe place to be here this weekend. If your home made it through Laura, don’t think your home is going to make it through Delta.”

Edwards said Wednesday 141,000 homes were damaged by Laura, including more than 35,000 with major damage and 10,000 that were completely destroyed. Thousands of homes still had temporary blue roofs across southwest Louisiana as the region prepared for Delta’s arrival.

Delta was expected to grow, raising the possibility of tropical storm-force winds far from the center and storm surge of 7-11 feet in some spots along the coast.

More than 7,500 utility workers were standing by in Louisiana to turn power back on after the storm and 2,400 National Guard and other emergency officials were racing to deliver supplies to bolster levees and prep areas in the storm’s path.

Power restoration could take longer in southwest Louisiana because of the lingering damage Hurricane Laura brought to the region’s infrastructure, officials said.


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com