NEW ORLEANS – Still reeling from Hurricane Laura, the Gulf Coast braced for another round of dangerous winds and heavy rains as Tropical Storm Sally was positioned on Sunday to strengthen into a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said.
In New Orleans, the demand for sandbags at one distribution site was so steady on Sunday that Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer was not able to keep up with Weather Service updates as she tied off sandbags and loaded them into residents’ vehicle trunks. About a dozen people stuck shovels into a quickly dwindling pile of sand.
“It seems like there’s more people coming out” than during Hurricane Laura, she said. The event had only been organized the previous night.
Sally, the 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, could land as a Category 2 hurricane on Tuesday morning, forecasters said. It is expected to bring 6 to 12 inches of rain to parts of the central Gulf Coast, according to Benjamin Schott, a New Orleans meteorologist for the National Weather Service, and could bring hurricane-force winds of 100 miles per hour in New Orleans.
It comes as the city is still recovering from Hurricane Laura. More than two weeks after it hit, more than 82,000 customers in the southwest Louisiana area are still without power. Nearly 12,000 people were still displaced and living in New Orleans hotels. Thousands more were in Texas, housed away from hurricane zones, according to Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana.
In a four-block stretch of cars, Morris Biggs was hoping to get a couple of sandbags in time to see the Saints kick off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mr. Biggs wore a black-and-gold Saints cap and T-shirt, a surgical mask low over his chin.
“We already evacuated to Houston for Laura a couple weeks ago,” Mr. Biggs said, adding that he wished he had been able to get the news in time to make the trip again for the latest storm.
Forecasters expected the center of the storm to move over the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday night and to approach the north-central Gulf Coast late Monday before moving farther inland over southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday. It was expected to reach hurricane strength by late Monday.
In recent years, “we’ve been spared the worst of several storms that have been forecast to be stronger,” said Mr. Edwards, the Louisiana governor, at a news conference, referring to storms like Cristobal, Marco and Barry. “I want people to understand that we’re very fortunate that that happened, but I guess it’s kind of like all of those disclaimers you get about stocks: Past performance is not an indicator of the future.”
He added that he submitted to President Trump a request for a federal emergency declaration before the storm makes landfall, and that he had asked for more assistance related to Hurricane Laura.
Memories of past storms are never far away in New Orleans, and it seems there’s one to match every upcoming forecast. A slow-moving Category 1 storm led to Hurricane Isaac’s flooding in 2012, and Sally could be set to move along a similar path as that storm, Mr. Edwards said.
“New Orleans has demonstrated it’s ill-equipped to deal with major rain events,” Joseph Rosenzweig, a resident, said, taking a breath before lifting sandbags into his own car. “We’re just crossing our fingers.”
The combination of a predicted storm surge and high tide in the central Gulf Coast could cause flooding if levees outside the hurricane’s path are overtopped. The surge could reach up to nine feet in the hardest-hit areas, Mr. Schott said, and significant surge could reach as far as Alabama and the Mississippi coast.
The storm was expected to continue along a northwestward path through Monday, according to the hurricane center. On Tuesday, it is expected to lose speed and pivot to the north-northwest.
After the storm makes landfall, four to eight inches of rain is possible across much of Mississippi and Alabama, as is heavy rain in parts of Tennessee, northern Georgia and western North Carolina.
Another storm, Hurricane Paulette, which was about 240 miles southeast of Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean, was expected to bring dangerously strong winds, heavy rain and a storm surge to Bermuda by Sunday evening, according to the hurricane center. Paulette is not expected to hit the U.S., but swells from the storm system could hit the East Coast, causing rip current conditions.
Many businesses in Sally’s path were having a sense of déjà vu. The Broad Theater, in New Orleans, has dealt with its fair share of flooding over the past few years.
“We’ve had three or four pretty severe floods in the past four years,” said Tyler Ryan, a manager at the theater.
This weekend, employees will lift everything off the ground, “hope for the best” and try to have faith in the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. “Things have gotten better over the past year,” Mr. Ryan said, mentioning a canal cleanup effort that included removing two cars from the city’s clogged drainage pipes.
The theater had finally reopened after pandemic shutdowns, in what he described as a hectic year. “We have a big group of regulars who were excited to see new films, excited to do anything really — while being responsible.”
But, he said, dealing with the floods was “the nature of New Orleans.”
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