Hurricane Delta strengthens to Category 3 on US approach

By: AFP      Published: 01:19 PM, 9 Oct, 2020
Hurricane Delta strengthens to Category 3 on US approach

Hurricane Delta gained strength Thursday as it churned across the western Gulf of Mexico towards the United States, threatening to batter part of the Louisiana coast still recovering from a separate storm just weeks ago.

After lashing Mexico's Caribbean coastline, Delta, now a Category 3 storm, is located 345 miles (555 kilometers) south of Louisiana and packing winds of 115 miles an hour, the US National Hurricane Center said in its 2100 GMT bulletin.

The NHC warned that "life-threatening storm surge" was expected along portions of the northern Gulf Coast on Friday, where the storm is predicted to make landfall in the afternoon or evening.

Delta had earlier slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula in southeast Mexico as a Category 2 storm, toppling trees and ripping down power lines. 

It weakened as it crossed the land, but gained strength again in the open waters of the Gulf.

Mexico's Yucatan region appeared to have escaped major destruction and there were no reports of deaths.

- Battered US Gulf -

Many along the Louisiana coastline have yet to recover from Hurricane Laura, which struck in late August as a strong Category 4 storm on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards urged residents to be extremely careful with Delta, and announced that 2,400 National Guard personnel had been mobilized to aid locals.

In the city of Lake Charles, where torn planks of wood, uprooted trees and debris from Laura still litter the streets, Shannon Fuselier drilled plywood over the windows of a friend's home as protection from flying debris.

Many neighborhood houses are covered with tarps from previous hurricane damage, and the home Fuselier was working on had already suffered roof damage from a fallen tree and smashed windows during Laura.

"The branches and leaves don't do that much damage," said Fuselier, 56. "It's pieces of metal, steel, frames of other peoples windows, signs from people's stores, nails."

Fuselier said that she was staying because she didn't think the storm was strong enough for her to flee. 

Edwards has already warned that Delta could sweep up old debris and hurl it like a missile.

Some 8,000 people were evacuated from the region when Laura struck, and on Thursday there was a traffic jam in both directions on the highway out of Lake Charles.

Terry Lebine had already evacuated to the town of Alexandria, some 100 miles (150 kilometers) to the north, during the previous hurricane, and was ready to head out again.

"It's exhausting," she told AFP. "...I've got my mother, she's 81 years old and not in the best of health. Right after we went back home after Laura, we have to leave again for Delta. We were home a good 2-3 weeks."

Delta is the 26th named storm of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season.

In September, meteorologists were forced to break out the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms for only the second time ever, after the 2020 hurricane season blew through their usual list, ending on Tropical Storm Wilfred.

As the ocean surface warms due to climate change hurricanes become more powerful -- and scientists say there will likely be an increase in powerful Category 4 and 5 storms.