With winds of 105 mph, Hurricane Delta made landfall on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday morning and is expected to move north toward the US Gulf Coast over the coming days.
Delta, a Category 2 storm, made landfall roughly halfway between the resort towns of Cancun and Playa del Carmen in Puerto Morelos, according to the US National Hurricane Center. The hurricane was expected to bring dangerous storm surge of 8 to 12 feet to the Yucatan coast.
The hurricane quickly made its way over the peninsula and reemerged in the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday afternoon. Back over open water, Delta will likely strengthen back into a major hurricane before turning north toward Louisiana.
A hurricane watch was issued for parts of the US Gulf Coast from High Island, Texas, eastward to Grand Isle, Louisiana. In addition, tropical storm watches were issued in Texas, including Houston and Galveston Bay, and in Louisiana, including New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas.
The storm pushed out of Mexico’s popular resorts with no known deaths or major damage as of early Wednesday afternoon. More than 39,000 people had evacuated ahead of Delta’s arrival.
LIVE UPDATES ON THE STORM
The hurricane was more than 60 miles east-northeast of Progreso, Mexico, as of Wednesday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
Delta is just the latest major storm in one of the busiest hurricane seasons in recent history. When it hits the US in the coming days, Delta will become the 10th named storm to make landfall in the US this season, setting the record for the most in one year. It will be the fifth hurricane to make landfall, the most storms the US has seen since 2005.
In particular, Louisiana is staring down what could be its fourth hurricane this season. The southwest part of the state is still recovering from Hurricane Laura, which made landfall as a category 4 hurricane less than six weeks ago.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency and requested a pre-landfall Federal Declaration of Emergency, he said in a statement.
“Hurricane Delta is a dangerous storm that will bring strong winds, heavy rain, life-threatening storm surge and flooding to coastal Louisiana, and I am hopeful President Trump will quickly approve my request for a federal emergency declaration,” Edwards said.
Delta tripled in strength in less than two days
In Mexico, people across the peninsula prepared for the storm by buying supplies at grocery stories, boarding up buildings with plywood and lining up to fill large jugs with water, video from CNN affiliate TV Azteca showed.
Dozens of tourists who were evacuated from their hotels wore masks and sat chatting while they awaited transport. Others were shown waiting for flights out of the area, with many canceled or delayed due to the storm.
Delta’s wind speed tripled in the span of about 30 hours — growing from a tropical depression with winds of 35 mph Monday morning to a Category 4 storm with winds of 145 mph before weakening. Maximum sustained winds increased by 85 mph in 24 hours — the most in one day so far this year.
The Mexican Army’s Disaster Support Force was activated to help with evacuations and other storm preparations prior to landfall.
More than 700 military personnel and 47 official vehicles had performed security tours, reviewed tributaries and evacuated people most at risk, it said.
On Tuesday, hotel evacuees moved to makeshift shelters waiting further rides, attempting to get home among canceled and delayed flights.
”We’re just trying to get out of here. Our flight was actually tomorrow so we changed it to today to get out of here,” Blake Greer of Texas told TV Azteca. “We caught a flight to Mexico City and we’re going to fly home tomorrow.”
Along the Gulf Coast, nearly 10% of manned oil rigs have shut down operations ahead of the storm, according to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which has activated its Hurricane Response Team. Personnel have been evacuated from at least one rig.
US states prepare for life-threatening conditions
In Louisiana, where evacuees are still living in shelters from Hurricane Laura, voluntary evacuations have already begun in several low-lying areas.
“We are still reeling from Hurricane Laura,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said in a Facebook post. “Much progress has been made since Laura, but there are still many people going through pain and struggle.”
New Orleans-based Entergy is monitoring the storm and preparing to respond in Louisiana. The utility has been busy with restoration efforts following the devastation Hurricane Laura caused to the distribution and transmission infrastructure.
Entergy announced just last week that it had restored power to all accessible customers in hard-hit southwest Louisiana.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Tuesday ahead of the storm. He encouraged residents to be prepared for a major hurricane and not focus on its strength.
“Hurricane Delta is an incredibly dangerous storm that will bring heavy winds, rain and life threatening flooding and storm surge to coastal Louisiana,” he said. “Everyone in South Louisiana should pay close attention to the weather in the coming days and heed the advice and directions of their local officials.”
Delta’s life-threatening storm surge, widespread damaging winds and flooding will be significant, said Ben Schott, the head of the National Weather Service in New Orleans.
The earliest the storm will hit is Friday morning, he said. But if the storm slows, it could be as late as Saturday morning. The whole coastline of Louisiana could see tropical storm winds, Schott said.
Louisiana schools throughout the Gulf Coast region will be closed Thursday and Friday.
New Orleans officials said they would continue monitoring the path of Hurricane Delta “minute by minute” to determine whether evacuations were needed.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also declared a state of emergency Tuesday ahead of the storm to help Alabama begin the preparation process and position the state for a pre-landfall disaster declaration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
A mandatory evacuation for tourists at the Alabama Gulf Coast, including Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island, and unincorporated areas of Ono Island and Fort Morgan, is ordered to begin Wednesday morning.
“This is for their safety and well-being, as well as for the safety and well-being of locals who are working to prepare their communities in the event Hurricane Delta tracks more easterly,” Ivey said in a statement.
She said that since the storm is already stronger than Hurricane Sally, which caused widespread destruction to the state when it hit September 16, heavy rains and strong winds are forecast for the area no matter where it makes landfall.
“As residents along the Gulf Coast know all too well, these storms are unpredictable, and I strongly encourage everyone to take Hurricane Delta seriously,” Ivey said.
Mississippi has deployed 160,000 sandbags to low-lying counties and has nine shelters on standby to open if needed, the Mississippi Emergency Management agency tweeted Tuesday.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has placed resources on standby across the state in anticipation of potentially severe weather caused by Hurricane Delta, according to a news release from the governor’s office. “Texans are urged to take immediate precautions to protect themselves from the impact of this storm,” he said.