With a 7 p.m. landfall near tiny Creole, La., in Cameron Parish, Delta followed nearly identically to Laura’s path, picking up intensity as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico and veering northeast just off the Texas-Louisiana border. It was poised to rip through inland parishes that were still struggling to recover from Laura, which took down trees and knocked out power across a wide swath of the state. Thousands were still not back in their homes after Laura when Delta arrived.
Many again fled low-lying areas, an exodus that choked Interstate 10 for much of Friday morning before torrential rains and shrieking winds arrived.
As the storm began to bear down on Lake Charles, Chris Primeaux packed his vehicle midday Friday and took his two dogs, Bailey and Asher, west toward Houston looking for a hotel room — difficult to find because so many people seeking refuge from Hurricane Laura remain holed up in temporary housing. He had not planned to leave, but when his wife was called in to spend the night at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for a nursing shift, he thought it safest to get out.
“Random stuff happens,” Primeaux said. “Rather than taking a chance by myself, I decided to go.”
The route out of Lake Charles was challenging. Multiple wrecks slowed traffic, and abandoned cars made Primeaux feel like it was “survival of the fittest.” He worries what he will see when he returns home, as several of his neighbors just had roofs installed after Laura, which gutted several homes near his.
Fire Capts. Mark Ware and Delton Carter, who watched as wind gusts began to twist tree branches in Lake Charles midday Friday, said most people evacuated. Fire services were canceled at noon, as sustained winds topped 40 mph. Most of the garages were sandbagged. A bathtub, waterlogged Sheetrock and other items from a flooded home sat on a front curb.
“With the destruction that Hurricane Laura did, a lot of people are still waiting on insurance claims,” Ware said. Carter said Lake Charles had prepared for the worst before Laura: “And the worst is what we got.”
Perhaps, until Delta’s arrival threatened to make the worst even worse.
Signs of the damage from Laura’s Category 4 winds six weeks ago are still visible everywhere. Trees felled are scattered along highway edges. Homes are topped with bright blue tarps and dumpsters filled with household detritus are as common as mailboxes. On Broad Street, a main Lake Charles thoroughfare, piles of splintered wood from homes gutted after Laura covered the sidewalks.
B.J. Perry, 79, sat on his front porch swing as Delta’s rains began to pour down. He and his wife, Dianna, 73, had no plans to escape. She filled the living room with the oversize ferns she usually keeps on the porch, and she secured the patio furniture and laid down the statues of angels and saints that normally adorn their backyard pool.
“I ain’t worried about it,” B.J. Perry said.
“We stayed for the last one,” Dianna Perry said, recalling how they rode out Laura with their 13-year-old Yorkie, Boots, six weeks ago. “I was scared as hell. But this is just a mild storm. A lot of rain, some wind. It’s not going to be so bad.”
Delta would be the fifth major storm the Perrys’ home would endure, including an unnamed 1918 hurricane along with Hurricanes Audrey in 1957, Rita in 2005 and Laura this summer. On the mantle in their dining room, the Perrys have a framed photo of the home standing strong amid a riverlike Broad Street during the Great Flood of 1913.
Aside from the risk of flying debris, Dianna Perry was a little concerned about the repairs that were just completed after damage from Laura.
“I just hope my brand new pretty roof stays on,” she said. It was just fixed this week.
While two strong hurricanes this close together was highly unusual, so was the mere existence of Hurricane Delta, the first-ever Greek-letter named hurricane to hit the United States. The ferocious 2020 season already has exhausted the alphabet, with more potential storms on the way.
The Gulf of Mexico has served as a launchpad for the storms this season, its warm waters feeding and intensifying the hurricanes as they have headed northward. Laura was tied as the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in Louisiana; Delta grew and strengthened as it hit the open water north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and it made landfall as a Category 2 storm.
Delta’s northern eyewall, the zone of the most powerful winds surrounding its center, began to cross the coast just east of Cameron, La., at about 4:15 p.m., near where Laura made landfall six weeks ago. Extremely heavy rain was beginning to fall, with six inches accumulating in Lake Charles by late afternoon. The storm surge had climbed to nearly nine feet just southwest of Lafayette.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said the state is in the midst of a difficult ordeal, with multiple catastrophic storms hitting during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know that some people are still evacuated and families have not yet been reunified, so this is a very tough time,” Edwards said during an afternoon news conference. “But we also know the people of Louisiana, southwest Louisiana, are very resilient and tough and faithful.”
Edwards urged people to focus on sheltering in place at this time.
Coronavirus-related restrictions on mass evacuation centers made fleeing the storm difficult — a megashelter in Alexandria that usually can host thousands was capped at 833 people, Edwards said. Combine that with the thousands of people who were displaced during Laura and are still in local hotels, there was little capacity for local sheltering.
Hotels across the region were full early Friday, such as in Lafayette, where Craig Stansbury, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said authorities urged people to leave early this time because staying locally was going to be difficult.
“Unless you have family or friends, you’re probably going to have to travel out of state to be able to do that,” he said.
Lake Charles resident Stephanie Celestine, 55, was lucky enough to find a room at a Holiday Inn in Lafayette, where she, her daughter and three granddaughters sought shelter after most of her neighbors left during mandatory evacuation orders.
“I’m glad they did,” she said. “And I’m praying for the ones that didn’t.”
Celestine worries about the debris left in her neighborhood and was especially anxious about a tree branch that remained on the roof of a family home, pinned against an electrical wire. Another family home flooded and was uninhabitable.
Adrien Houff has been displaced from Lake Charles since Laura tore apart the roof of his three-story apartment building, dumping enough water to seep into his second-floor unit. Mold made it impossible for him to stay.
Houff, 42, has spent the past few weeks on the move, first sleeping in a camper and then a hotel in Lafayette. On Friday, he packed up his remaining belongings and headed to Mississippi to stay with family.
He wonders what will be left for him after Delta passes through: “Where do we go if Delta jacks up everything?”
In downtown Lake Charles, shredded awnings and broken windows were visible along the normally vibrant Ryan Street district, which was shuttered on Friday. One exception was a former bar, now the headquarters of the Cajun Navy Foundation, where a group of 10 bustled about, preparing for yet another major storm.
Three weeks ago, Rob Gaudet, 51, a Lake Charles native and the group’s founder, rented this space as a semi-permanent outpost for the volunteer efforts he has been coordinating here since Laura struck.
At the back side of the space, volunteers had settled into the makeshift living quarters: a shower behind the bar’s kitchen, an indoor clothesline and a room full of air mattresses. At the front, they got to work. One woman filled shelving units with supplies for distribution. Canned goods went next to paper plates and baby formula. Bug spray went near the bleach.
His volunteers served 50,000 meals in the weeks following Laura, he said. Since then, their efforts have focused on tree removal; thousands of trees are still down, Gaudet said.
But on Friday, they were preparing for another storm.
The group planned to stay up all night Friday. They will head out to conduct rescues as soon as Delta’s winds reach 35 mph or below, probably first thing Saturday morning.
After that, they will focus on delivering food and supplies to those in need. And after that, they plan to get back to trees.
Lamothe reported from Lake Charles, La., and Beaumont, Tex. Kornfield reported from Delcambre, La., and Lafayette, La. Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow in Washington contributed to this report.