National Hurricane Center forecasters expect the hurricane to strengthen before making landfall sometime late Friday
(Updates with comments from residents, governor)
By Stephanie Kelly
BATON ROUGE, La., Oct 8 (Reuters) - Residents of Louisiana, still battered from Hurricane Laura, fled inland or hunkered down on Thursday as Hurricane Delta barreled toward the state, growing in size and force as it spins across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm, packing winds of up to 115 miles per hour (185 kph), ranked as a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale on Thursday afternoon and National Hurricane Center forecasters expect it to strengthen before making landfall sometime late Friday.
"They never had time to recover from Laura and now this next storm is hitting them. They never had time to get back on their feet and they didn't think they could survive the second one," Cathy Evans, 63, said of her daughter's family as she helped them move out of their Lake Charles home.
Evans, who traveled to Lake Charles from Texarkana, Arkansas, left with her daughter and family for Texas on Thursday evening as Louisiana was closing its flood control gates.
Delta is forecast to make landfall on Friday in hard-hit southwest Louisiana, between the cities of Lake Charles and Lafayette, said Benjamin Schott, chief meteorologist of the National weather Service office in New Orleans.
The storm could drive a 4- to 11-foot (1.2-3.3 meters) storm surge up Vermilion Bay on the coast, the NHC said. It could also unleash tornadoes as it moves over land and drop up to 10 inches (25 cm) of rain.
LOUSIANANS "WIL BE TESTED"
"I know people in Louisiana, especially the southwest are very strong and very resilient, but they are going to be tested here," Governor John Bel Edwards said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
New Orleans may be spared the worst of the storm, although it will be hit by gusty winds and mild rain, said AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, with Lafayette the largest city on the storm's eastern and more dangerous side.
WalMart said it was closing many of its stores across the Gulf Coast as a precaution.
On Thursday morning, Morgan City resident Lisa Mire and three friends took shelter from a light rain to pray for former colleagues facing the COVID-19 pandemic as teachers.
The storm added urgency to the group's regular get-together, she said.
"We have today to prepare ourselves and our families for the arrival of Hurricane Delta," Edwards told residents. "Let's make it count."
The state sought and received a federal emergency declaration, he said, making additional resources available.
Energy companies halted 92%, or nearly 1.7 million barrels per day of offshore oil output, and 62% of natural gas production, data showed. The U.S. Coast Guard warned shippers of impending gale force winds from Port Arthur, Texas, to New Orleans.
Southwestern Louisiana bore the brunt of Hurricane Laura's fierce winds and storm surge in August. There are about 8,000 people still living in hotel rooms as a result of the devastation to homes in the southwest of the state from by Laura, Edwards said on Wednesday.
When Delta reaches the northern Gulf Coast, it will be the 10th named storm to make a U.S. landfall this year, eclipsing a record that has held since 1916. (Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; writing by Gary McWilliams and Bill Tarrant; Editing by Nick Zieminski, David Gregorio and Richard Pullin)
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