Hurricane Delta intensified into a Category 3 storm Thursday afternoon and it may strike southwestern Louisiana with similar strength on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is expected to make US landfall along the same portion of southwest Louisiana where Hurricane Laura hit just six weeks ago.
Conditions “appear favorable for strengthening” over the next 12 hours, “and based on this additional intensification is expected tonight,” the center said in its latest forecast discussion.
The mayor of Lake Charles, Louisiana, which was hit hard by Laura, made a last-ditch plea asking people to evacuate the area.
“With what we have been through with Laura, looking at hurricane Delta really is a scary proposition for Lake Charles,” Mayor Nic Hunter said in a video message posted to his Facebook page on Thursday.
And with the storm’s range due to grow, hurricane-force winds could extend across a stretch of the Texas coast.
Delta will be a “large storm that will extend 140 miles from its center,” with gusts reaching the Baton Rouge area, Ben Schott, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service station in New Orleans, said Thursday.
Delta, already a record-breaking storm after slamming Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is forecast to bring “life-threatening” storm surge and dangerous winds to US Gulf Coast communities before it drenches areas much further inland in the following days, the National Hurricane Center said.
“You don’t have any time after today to prepare for this storm,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “Tomorrow will be too late.”
Hurricane warning expanded
Delta’s maximum sustained winds have increased to 115 miles per hour as it moves northwest at 12 mph, still about 310 miles south of Cameron, Louisiana, the hurricane center said at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. Storm surge is still expected to reach as high as 11 feet in some places, and hurricane-force winds are expected to reach the coast Friday afternoon, the NHC said.
A hurricane warning has expanded west and now stretches from High Island in Texas to Morgan City, Louisiana. A storm surge warning is in effect from High Island to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, including Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne.
On Thursday, a tropical storm warning was added for the Texas coast west of San Luis Pass to Sargent, the National Hurricane Center said.
The most significant threats Delta poses to Texas are high surf (or higher-than-normal waves), beach erosion and coastal flooding, the National Weather Service’s Houston offices said in a Thursday update.
Residents urged to evacuate
Delta is predicted to strike the same southwest Louisiana communities still reeling six weeks after Hurricane Laura made landfall there as a Category 4 storm. Many homeowners are still living without roofs after Laura tore through and also destroyed parts of the power grid, Myers said.
In Lake Charles, where blue tarps still cover the shredded roofs of homes damaged by Laura, the mayor urged residents to evacuate by Thursday night.
“I can tell you that we as city employees are going to move heaven and earth and leave no stone unturned to get people out of Lake Charles,” Hunter said in the video.
Kerry Anderson, whose Lake Charles home was damaged by Laura, said residents are “worn out” by repairing their community while facing the threat of another major hurricane.
“I think, really, the word is disbelief,” she told CNN affiliate KPRC. “Like, how could this be happening again?”
All of Cameron Parish – the furthest west along Louisiana’s coast – is under a mandatory evacuation order, the sheriff’s office said on Facebook Thursday.
Officials also issued a mandatory evacuation in Calcasieu Parish, saying they expect powerful winds to begin late Thursday night. Hurricane conditions are expected in the warning area by Friday evening, the hurricane center said.
Other areas under mandatory evacuation orders include residents in low-lying areas in Vermilion Parish and the town of Grand Isle.
Parts of Louisiana could see up to 11 feet of water
Delta could unleash a powerful storm surge and tide that will flood areas near the coast that are usually dry, the National Hurricane Center said.
Almost the entire Louisiana Gulf Coast is under a storm surge warning, the NHC said in an update. Storm surge happens when “a strong storm’s wind push(es) water on-shore,” said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. “The wind literally piles up the ocean water and pushes it on the land.”
Areas from Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge to Port Fourchon in Louisiana, including Vermilion Bay, could see up to 11 feet of water, while places from Holly Beach, Louisiana, to the refuge could see up to 7 feet of water, the hurricane center said.
Areas between High Island, Texas, and Sabine Island, Louisiana, are expected to see between 2 and 4 feet of storm surge. The mouth of the Mississippi River could see the same.
Delta also could also drop up to 10 inches of rain Friday and Saturday southwest into south-central Louisiana, the center said. As the storm moves further inland, the Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic could also see several inches of rain.
As a result, “significant” flash flooding is likely in southwest Louisiana on Friday and Saturday, the NHC said.
Devastated communities await another disaster
Louisiana has faced the brunt of an active hurricane season. Delta is forecast to be the fourth named storm to make landfall in the state in 2020, setting a record for the most there in one season.
Laura, which made landfall with 150-mph winds, left 15 people dead and others without power for weeks. The storm also knocked out the clean water supply for thousands of residents.
More than 10,000 homes in southwest Louisiana were destroyed in the storm, and 35,000 homes sustained “major damage,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a Wednesday news conference.
More than 6,000 evacuees from that storm remain in hotels throughout Louisiana, while another 2,000 are housed in Texas, he said.
“This is the reality that many homeowners are facing as we prepare for Delta,” Edwards said. “Obviously, it’s not a very good situation.”
“This is not a bad dream,” Hunter, the Lake Charles mayor, said Thursday in a Facebook video. “It’s not a test run. These are the cards that we have been dealt. And right now, we have a job to do.”
Lynn Connor, a Lake Charles resident, is spending Thursday preparing his home for the impending storm.
“I kind of wish it was going somewhere else, but it doesn’t look like it,” he told CNN affiliate KPRC. “Got to get all my loose stuff up.”
Texas also preps for Delta
In Texas, the governor announced the state was preparing resources so it could be ready to respond.
“As Hurricane Delta moves through the Gulf, the State of Texas is supporting communities along the Gulf Coast and providing the resources they need to respond to this storm,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news release.
“Texans in the path of this storm should continue to heed the guidance and direction of local officials, remain cautious, and remember - Turn Around, Don’t Drown. We will continue to monitor Hurricane Delta and work alongside our local partners to keep Texans safe.”
The storm will mostly avoid states along the eastern Gulf Coast.
Still, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, urging residents to “prep for the worst.”
“At this time, the heaviest rain and strongest wind is projected to be felt Friday afternoon through midday Saturday across Southwest Mississippi and further north along the Mississippi River,” the governor’s office said in a Wednesday statement.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey canceled a mandatory evacuation order for communities along the Alabama Gulf Coast, saying “projections have become evident and remained fairly consistent in that Southwest Louisiana looks to be in the direct path of this storm.”
CNN’s Robert Shackelford, Kay Jones and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.