Hurricane Delta Makes Landfall in Louisiana

October 12, 2020 

LAFAYETTE, La. -- Hurricane Delta delivered yet another assault of wind and storm surge on Friday on a stretch of the Louisiana coast that had been eviscerated just six weeks ago by Hurricane Laura, one of the most powerful storms to hit the state.

Delta, which had weakened as it approached the United States, made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane at roughly 6 p.m. local time in Creole, La., sweeping in with 100-mile-per-hour winds, according to the National Hurricane Center.

After midnight, it was downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour. But as dawn approached, storm surge warnings were still in effect for portions of Louisiana, and five to 10 inches of rain were expected in some areas of the state.

The outer bands of the storm had arrived earlier on Friday, lashing communities reaching from the Texas coast to as far east as Baton Rouge, where the authorities said that nearly two dozen emergency calls included high-water rescues.

Residents already weary from a long and punishing hurricane season restocked their pantries, boarded up their homes and either cleared out or hunkered down in advance of the storm. Delta is expected to cut a path similar to that of Laura, which wrought an estimated $8 billion to $12 billion in damage, upending lives in communities that were struggling to claw their way back.

Across the southwestern part of the state, officials braced for even a slight rerun of Laura.

"People are frustrated, people are emotional, people are fatigued," said Nic Hunter, the mayor of Lake Charles, where power was finally fully restored this week and where thousands of homes remain uninhabitable.

Mr. Hunter said he worried that residents would try to ride out Delta in compromised structures that could collapse completely, though he added that more people had evacuated this week than for Laura.

ImageMany homes in Hurricane Delta's path have still not recovered from Hurricane Laura, which hit Louisiana in August.
Many homes in Hurricane Delta's path have still not recovered from Hurricane Laura, which hit Louisiana in August.Credit...Emily Kask for The New York Times

Still, there was no escaping the bruised feelings.

"We just went through a major catastrophe," he said, "and in our wildest dreams, no one would have thought that six weeks later we would be going through the same thing."

Delta was the 10th named storm to make landfall in the continental United States this year, breaking the previous record of nine storms in 1916, according to Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.

At a news conference on Friday afternoon, Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said he was praying that Delta, the 25th named storm of the busy Atlantic hurricane season, would rush quickly through the state, and stay on a projected path that kept it to the east of Lake Charles, sparing it from the storm's more destructive eastern flank.

Even so, Mr. Edwards said, "We're confident that there will be hurricane-force winds felt in and around Lake Charles and in other areas of southwest Louisiana that are very damaged. And so we know this is going to exacerbate what is already a bad situation."

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.

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 caused extensive property damage and several deaths.


Some people in Bell City, La., planned to stay put for Hurricane Delta on Friday.Credit...William Widmer for The New York Times

That dangerous right side of the storm, sometimes known as "the dirty side," appeared likely to strafe a rural stretch of the Acadiana region, home to little towns that serve as repositories of the state's Acadian and Creole cultures. A measure of anxiety was also palpable in Lafayette, population 126,000, the cultural and economic capital of the region.

Lafayette Parish had been under voluntary evacuation since midweek, and as Delta churned ever closer, residents were divided on whether to stay or go.

Across the street in a lot next to a city-owned community center on Thursday, 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-bred 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 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.


Preparing for the storm in Lafayette, La., on Friday. Credit...Dan Anderson/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Friday afternoon, even with a downpour of rain, cars were still out on the road and forming a drive-through line that wrapped around Kevin's Seafood for fried catfish and shrimp. But most other gas stations, stores and restaurants had already shut down, and before long, as the sky grew darker, the traffic largely vanished from many streets.

There were no hotel rooms left in the city, officials said, so people evacuating from other communities in the path of the storm needed to bunk with relatives or friends or travel farther. For those remaining in the city, officials urged them to stay at home.

Mr. Edwards said that while Delta, which struck Mexico earlier in the week, had lost some of its strength, it was still forecast to bring a surge as high as 11 feet and rainfall of 10 inches or more.

With Delta, much like Laura, state officials were forced to find emergency shelter for large numbers of displaced people while taking into account the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Mr. Edwards said there were more than 9,500 Louisianians in shelters as of Friday afternoon, most of them evacuees from the previous storm. But another 800 were being housed because of Delta, many of them in the mega-shelter in Alexandria.


Flooding in Vinton, La., on Friday as Hurricane Delta moved closer to the Gulf Coast.Credit...Octavio Jones for The New York Times

The shelter there, Mr. Edwards said, could typically accommodate thousands of people, but its capacity was reduced to 833 because of virus restrictions. After reaching capacity, evacuees were moved farther north to the cities of Bastrop and Shreveport.

Still, many others chose to ride out Delta with a shrug -- a response that might be interpreted as coolheadedness or insouciance.

In Rayne, a small city on the Cajun prairie west of Lafayette, windows were boarded up and generators were full of fuel. A woman jogged along a two-lane highway through the heavy rainfall that had already begun. And the register was getting a workout at Queen City Discount Liquor and Tobacco.

Marcus Carmouche, 30, set out on Friday morning with the hope of finding a generator. He had no luck. Instead, he came to the store with his cousin, who gathered up armfuls of bags of chips.

Mr. Carmouche said he would take it as it came. "It isn't going to do nothing but tear out a few trees and knock power lines down," he said, noting that the last storm, Hurricane Laura, had left his family without power for about a day.

His plan, he said, was to stay home and play video games until the lights went out. "We're just going to chill," he said.

Rick Rojas reported from Lafayette, and Richard Fausset from Atlanta. Mike Ives contributed reporting from Hong Kong, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio from New York, Will Wright from Jersey City, N.J., Chelsea Brasted from New Orleans and Christiaan Mader from Lafayette.

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