Hurricane Delta batters Louisiana's coast; Mississippi will feel impact
Hurricane Delta began battering Louisiana's coast with tropical storm force winds Friday afternoon even before it was to come ashore as a Category 2 hurricane.
Gusts of 60 mph were being felt before landfall in Lake Charles, which remains decimated from Hurricane Laura six weeks ago.
"Hurricane Delta is behaving much as forecast," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday afternoon. "Tropical force winds are at the coast of Louisiana as we speak."
Edwards said 9,537 evacuees (6,300 from Hurricane Laura) are now being sheltered in Louisiana with 800 of those at the state's Alexandria mega shelter, which has reached capacity. At least 2,000 Louisiana evacuees are still being sheltered in Texas hotels.
He said the state is opening its Bastrop shelter next, followed by the state's Jewella shelter in Shreveport if needed. But Edwards said all of those at state shelters will likely be placed in hotels within 24 hours of the passage of the storm.
Most of the Hurricane Delta evacuees are again from southwestern Louisiana and Acadiana.
"If you live between Lake Charles and Lafayette, that's where the most significant impacts will occur," said Ben Schott, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service's New Orleans station, in an interview with USA Today Network.
Delta is expected to move in a weakened state through Alexandria in central Louisiana and Monroe in northeastern Louisiana before exiting into northwestern Mississippi.
The effects of the hurricane are beginning to be felt in southwestern Louisiana, with "treacherous conditions" and "life-threatening values" arriving ahead of Hurricane Delta making landfall Friday evening, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said Friday morning.
Hurricane-force winds were felt about 150 miles out from the radius of Hurricane Delta, he said.
Graham said motorists should use extra caution if traveling at night since flash flooding is likely as heavy rains pelt western and central Mississippi, especially in areas west of Interstate 55.
In Mississippi, tropical storm warnings remain in effect for Adams, Amite, Claiborne, Franklin, Issaquena, Jefferson, Warren and Wilkinson counties, according to the National Weather Service bureaus in Jackson and New Orleans.
Those areas could expect between 4-8 inches of rain with sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts of up to 55 mph.
Central Mississippi and the Pine Belt, which includes Hattiesburg and the Jackson metro area could see 2-3 inches of rain and sustained winds of 20-25 mph with gusts of up to 40 mph through Saturday afternoon.
Three shelters opened in Mississippi on Friday: the safe rooms in Adams and Pike counties and the medical needs shelter in Stone County. Others across the state remained on standby.
In Louisiana, Schott said maximum storm surge of 11 feet could occur at Vermilion Bay with lesser, but dangerous, surge along much of state's coast.
HURRICANE DELTA:Schools and organizations closed in advance of storm
He said Hurricane Delta could still weaken as it approaches cooler Gulf waters near the coast and a low pressure system that may provide wind shear to lessen its potency.
Louisiana National Guard Gen. Keith Waddell told USA Today Network 2,500 guardsmen and women are activated with 114 high water vehicles, 56 boats and eight aircraft at their disposal in strategic areas in Hurricane Delta's path.
Entergy Louisiana said it's prepared to mobilize 10,000 employees and contractors to restore power outages.
Lici Beveridge of USA Today Network contributed to this report.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.