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Hurricane Delta delivers another cruel blow to storm-weary Louisiana: 'Unprecedented'

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star

Thousands of Louisianans in southwestern Louisiana awoke to a cruel scene of deja vu Saturday, surveying damage from Hurricane Delta just six weeks after many of the same areas were decimated by Hurricane Laura. 

Even Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in many cases "the damage will be difficult to differentiate" between the two storms.

"This was obviously a seriously large and powerful storm," said Edwards, who began surveying parishes with the most damage Saturday.

Hurricane Delta ripped some blue tarps off of homes like scabs after storming onshore in Louisiana near Creole as a 100 mph Category 2 storm, aggravating old wounds and opening fresh ones less than six weeks after Hurricane Laura carved a similar path.

The storm left nearly 700,000 Louisiana customers without electricity at the outage peak, even more than powerful Category 4 Hurricane Laura managed.

“We really just need people not to forget about us,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter told the Associated Press. “We are going to be in the recovery mode for months and probably years from these two hurricanes. It’s just unprecedented and historic what has happened to us.”

"We have to start over again," Mayor Mike Danahay of Sulphur, a city of more than 20,000 in southwestern Louisiana, told USA Today Network.

Many residents will have to start rebuilding from scratch, but most pressed doggedly ahead.

Marialisa Wyatt, 54, saw all of her work on her Lake Charles home undone by Delta, which added two more holes in the roof already pierced by Hurricane Laura.

“The people of Southwest Louisiana are very resilient,” Wyatt said. “We come from a culture that’s very family-oriented. ... We make it work. We’re survivors.” 

Louisiana's 3,000 activated National Guard soldiers fanned out across the state for search and rescue, road clearance, engineering assessment and commodity distribution. 

"We're all over the state," Gen. Keith Waddell said. "We're hitting it hard."

Edwards said the state is sheltering 935 Delta evacuees, primarily at its Bastrop shelter, while continuing to shelter about 8,500 displaced by Hurricane Laura. Another 2,000 Louisiana Hurricane Laura evacuees are being sheltered by Texas.

After moving through southern Louisiana, Delta marched through Alexandria in central Louisiana and Monroe in northeastern Louisiana still packing tropical storm-force winds and flooding rains before exiting into Mississippi, where it created similar problems.

Mississippians began clearing away debris and assessing damage from Hurricane Delta as the first rays of light appeared Saturday morning.

For those in southwestern Mississippi, that included hundreds of downed trees and power lines blocking roads and taking out power to thousands.

Throughout the state, more than 95,000 customers were without electricity at the peak of the outages.

In Natchez, emergency workers got to work clearing roadways of debris while power companies worked to restore electricity.

Families surveyed the damage to their homes and started cleaning up after the storm.

Julie Johnson, 66, was raking limbs from her yard along Vaughn Drive in Natchez Saturday morning, grateful that the three trees surrounding her home had withstood Hurricane Delta.

Her neighbor wasn’t so lucky. 

A tree in her neighbor’s backyard had snapped in half. It fell diagonally across the roof, crashing through the home. The trunk came to rest on the home’s foundation, its leaves and branches jutting out of the house and into the front yard.

Much of the house appeared to be gutted.

Johnson said she remembered hearing the tree come down — a loud “whoosh.”

“We didn’t know where it was coming from,” Johnson said. “The wind was blowing so hard.”

Her son, 37-year-old Eddie Long, said it was more like a “boom.” He said he talked briefly with his neighbor after the storm.

She was in her bedroom when the tree fell, Long recalled her saying, and the tree — which destroyed so much of the home — spared her.

“She was scared to death,” Long said.

His neighbors are renters, he said, and he’s not sure whether they’ll return. For now, the house is uninhabitable. 

“I just thank God not one (tree) hit our house,” he said. 

A team from the National Weather Service in Jackson was out Saturday morning surveying an area of Franklin County where a tornado may have touched down.

A family stood on the front porch of their mobile home in Franklin County outside Roxie, debating how to tackle the tree limb sticking out of their roof. The power had been out since about 1 a.m.

Nell McDaniel, 47, said she heard a loud “pop” overnight when the tree limb from a nearby tree fell and punctured the roof. Water leaked in through the morning, damaging part of the home. 

“It was a lotta wind,” McDaniel said. “Not that much rain, but a lotta wind.”

Southwestern Mississippi may have seen the greatest impact from Delta, but the tropical force winds and heavy rain were felt across the state, NWS Meteorologist John Moore reported.

Trees were down in some areas of Jackson and a traffic signal fell from its perch.

Showers continued in the Jackson metro area Saturday, with gusts of 30 mph as the effects of Delta began to taper off, Moore said.

"It will be clearing out (Sunday)," he said. "The further south you are the better. There could be some residual showers with the remnants of Delta." 

USA TODAY Network reporters Lici Beveridge, Daniella Medina and Brinley Hineman, as well as the Associated Press, contributed to this story.