Hurricane Delta heads into Gulf on path for U.S. after hitting Mexico

Tim Fitzsimons and Phil Helsel and The Associated Press
·5 min read

A hurricane warning was issued for a stretch of Louisiana on Wednesday night as Hurricane Delta, which has now strengthened to a Category 2, churned in the Gulf of Mexico after hitting the Yucatan Peninsula, forecasters said.

The warning covered from east of Sabine Pass, which is in Texas near the Louisiana border, to Morgan City, also in Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 10 p.m. local time (11 p.m. ET).

Storm surge warnings covered a larger area, to Ocean Springs, Miss. Early Thursday, Delta strengthened to a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph and was moving west-northwest at 17 mph.

It is expected to strengthen and become a "major hurricane" as it moves over warm Gulf waters. It's forecast to make landfall Friday — but some weakening is expected as it approaches the U.S. coast.

"Now is the time to prepare," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted Wednesday evening.

Delta made landfall Wednesday morning in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, about 23 miles south of Cancún.

There have been no reports of deaths, but the storm knocked out power to about 266,000 customers, or about one-third of the total on the Yucatan peninsula, and forced hundreds of tourists to take refuge in storm shelters.

Delta will next steam toward U.S. coast

Tropical storm warnings were also issued for parts of Texas west of Sabine Pass, and east of Morgan City in Louisiana, the hurricane center said. That warning covers the city of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.

"Currently, the city of New Orleans is outside of the cone, but the impact will still be significant, and we're planning for that," Mayor LaToya Cantrell said earlier Wednesday. The cone refers to a projection of where the center of the storm was expected to possibly travel.

Image: Hurricane Delta approaches Gulf Coast (Kathleen Flynn / Reuters)
Image: Hurricane Delta approaches Gulf Coast (Kathleen Flynn / Reuters)

Potentially life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds are likely to affect the coast, especially for parts of the Louisiana coast, beginning on Friday, according to the hurricane center.

President Donald Trump approved a federal emergency declaration for Louisiana, which allows federal aid, after the governor earlier requested one.

Emergencies declared in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi

Ahead of Delta's forecast arrival, the governors of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a mandatory evacuation order for all tourists and visitors to the coastal communities of Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island, as well as the unincorporated areas of Ono Island and Fort Morgan, a string of delicate barrier islands that stretch between Florida and Mississippi.

Ivey said that the state is still recovering from Hurricane Sally and that cleanup workers should remain on the job "as long as possible."

"We want to stay focused on our current cleanup and recovery from Sally for as long as possible, even as we make preparations for Hurricane Delta," Ivey said Tuesday.

Edwards, the governor of Louisiana, earlier called Delta "an incredibly dangerous storm that will bring heavy winds, rain and life threatening flooding and storm surge to coastal Louisiana."

Wednesday night he urged people to get ready. "All who live in South Louisiana should be preparing for Hurricane Delta and plan to be in place by Thursday evening as we prepare to weather yet another strong hurricane," Edwards said in a statement.

Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Laura, which struck its coast in August as a Category 4 storm. Over 6,000 Laura evacuees remain in hotels, mainly in New Orleans, because of damage to their homes.

The National Park Service on Tuesday pre-emptively closed Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in southern Louisiana, an expansive wetlands area that sits close to sea level.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that the state's heaviest rain and strongest wind were expected Friday afternoon in southwest Mississippi and along the Mississippi River.

"Prep for the worst. Pray for the best. God bless and stay safe," Reeves said in a statement.

Delta will be the 10th hurricane to have made landfall on the mainland U.S. this season, setting a record for the number of landfalls in a single season.

Image: Hurricane Delta approaches Cancun (Jorge Delgado / Reuters)
Image: Hurricane Delta approaches Cancun (Jorge Delgado / Reuters)

Tourists hunkered down

Before it made landfall in Mexico at about 6:30 a.m. ET, Delta's winds increased by 80 mph in just 24 hours, more than doubling from a 60 mph storm.

Its top winds peaked at 145 mph before weakening slightly late Tuesday as it closed in on Yucatan.

Carlos Joaquín González, the governor of the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancún is, said there were no reports of any deaths or injuries, according to The Associated Press.

"Fortunately, the most dangerous part of the hurricane has passed," Joaquín González said, noting that the big problem was downed trees that had knocked out power lines and blocked roadways.

Thousands of Quintana Roo residents and tourists hunkered down in dozens of government shelters, waiting for landfall. Everyone had been ordered off the streets by 7 p.m.

Civil defense official Luís Alberto Ortega Vázquez said that about 39,000 people had been evacuated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan and that about 2,700 people had taken refuge in storm shelters.

Much of Cancun's hotel zone was cleared out as guests were bused to inland shelters. In Cancun alone, the government opened 160 shelters.

Image: Hurrican Delta in Cancun (Victor Ruiz Garcia / AP)
Image: Hurrican Delta in Cancun (Victor Ruiz Garcia / AP)

About 300 guests and nearly 200 staff members from the Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel were taken to the Technological Institute of Cancun campus. All wearing masks, they spread out on thin mattresses in a classroom building and tried to get comfortable as workers boarded up the building's windows in a light rain. Some played cards or watched videos on their phones, while others called relatives.

"The hotel has done a good job of making sure that we were provided for and that we're going to be safe here in this place, so we don't have any concerns at all," said Shawn Sims, a tourist from Dallas who was sheltering with his wife, Rashonda Cooper, and their sons, Liam, 7, and Easton, 4.

"This is my first [hurricane] experience, but I see that these guys have a plan and they know what they're doing," Sims said.

CORRECTION: (October 7, 10:50 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of the governor of Louisiana and misidentified him on subsequent references. He is John Bel Edwards, not Jon, and his last name is Edwards, not Bel Edwards.