Tropical Storm Marco briefly grew to hurricane strength Sunday before weakening again, but is still one of two powerful storms marching toward the Gulf Coast.
Marco is likely to make landfall late Monday in Louisiana, where a hurricane warning is still in effect. And, then, Tropical Storm Laura is expected to reach hurricane status before it roars into the state Wednesday, threatening a historic double slam of landfalls within miles of each other.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Benjamin Schott said such a confluence of storms hasn’t happened in the Gulf of Mexico in recorded history. Isolated areas could see 15 inches of rain from the two storms, he said.
“We have a very unique situation with two storms that unfortunately are headed to Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday. “They pose a challenge we have quite frankly not seen before.”
Edwards said the “one-two punch” of hurricanes will blanket the state’s coastline with storm surge as high as 10 feet in some areas and prompt flash flooding in others. He said residents should be ready to shelter in place for at least 72 hours, warning that it may not be possible to deploy rescue helicopters and high-water vehicles after Marco’s storm surge if Laura comes in right behind.
Because of the COVID-19 threat, Edwards said, the state plans to activate large shelters with congregate settings only “as a last resort.” Instead, the governor said, he’s working with the federal government to use hotels and motels if large evacuations become necessary.
Officials in LaPlace, 30 miles upriver from New Orleans, distributed sandbags in low-lying areas and urged residents to seek cover and prepare.
St. John the Baptist Parish, which includes LaPlace, has had one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the nation.
“People are still in shock with so many people lost to this virus,” said Larry Soraparu, a former parish councilman. “Now, we have two hurricanes in the Gulf and no one’s sure what’s going to happen.”
He added: “Tensions are rising.”
On Grand Isle, south of New Orleans, Starfish Restaurant manager Nicole Fantiny watched a long line of people driving off the barrier island.
“They are all packing up and leaving,” she said. “My house was built in 1938, so I think we’re good.”
Louisiana State University canceled all classes, activities and COVID-19 testing centers on campus Monday due to Hurricane Marco, the university announced Sunday.
As of 11 p.m. EDT, Marco was about 185 miles south-southeast of the Mississippi River, powering maximum sustained winds of 70 mph as it slid to the north-northwest at 12 mph. Marco continued on a track for landfall on Monday, when it will blast parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with storm surge, heavy rainfall and strong winds.
The storm is expected to hook westward and possibly reach Texas as a tropical depression Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Laura strengthened near eastern Cuba on Sunday night after killing at least seven people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The storm was traveling west-northwest at 21 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 p.m. EDT advisory.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor said his teams were “on the ground and ready to support.” Downpours and gusty winds drenched the island, and nearly six inches of rain fell in some areas, prompting flood warnings.
Laura was forecast to sweep over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico late Monday into Tuesday.
“Environmental conditions will be more favorable for strengthening, and Laura is expected to become a hurricane prior to reaching the Gulf Coast,” Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller warned. Landfall could come Wednesday.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency.
“We are in unprecedented times,” Reeves said. “We are dealing with not only two potential storms in the next few hours, we are also dealing with COVID-19.”
Cay Wiser of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, lost her home to a Category 4 hurricane in 2005. She said she’s not overly concerned about Hurricane Marco, which is expected to make landfall as a Category 1, but she’s preparing.
“I’ve got food, I’ve got cases of water, my generator is working, I think I’ve got everything,” she said. “I don’t get nervous until it’s a high (Category) 2. If they were talking about a high 2 or a 3, I’d think about leaving my house.”
The storms could keep coming as tropical waves emerge off the coast of Africa, according to Accuweather Meteorologist Bernie Rayno. The heart of the 2020 hurricane season, which is just getting underway, is expected to be extremely active, he said.
The Atlantic hurricane season already has been a record-breaker. Laura is the earliest L-named storm in the Atlantic Basin, breaking a record held by Luis, which formed Aug. 29, 1995. This season has had 13 named storms, well above normal activity.