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Delta adds insult to injury in hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast

A man walks across the street as the

A man walks across the street as the outer bands of Hurricane Delta make landfall in Galveston, Texas on Friday. Credit: AFP /AFP via Getty Images/MARK FELIX

LAFAYETTE, La. — The day after Hurricane Delta blew through the besieged Louisiana bayou, residents started the routine again: dodging overturned cars on the roads, trudging through knee-deep water to flooded homes with ruined floors and no power, and pledging to rebuild after the storm.

Delta made landfall Friday evening near the coastal Louisiana town of Creole with top winds of 100 mph. It then moved over Lake Charles, a city where Hurricane Laura damaged nearly every home and building in late August. No deaths had been reported as of Saturday afternoon, but officials said people were not out of danger.

While Delta was a weaker storm than Category 4 Laura, it brought significantly more flooding, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said. He estimated that hundreds of already battered homes across the city took on water. The recovery from the double impact will be long, the mayor said.

"Add Laura and Delta together and it’s just absolutely unprecedented and catastrophic," Hunter said. "We are very concerned that with everything going in the country right now that this incident may not be on the radar nationally like it should be."

The Louisiana governor’s office said it had no reports of deaths early Saturday, but a hurricane’s wake can be treacherous. Only seven of the 32 deaths in Louisiana and Texas attributed to Laura came the day that hurricane struck. A leading cause of the others was carbon monoxide poisoning from generators used in places without electricity. Others died in accidents while cleaning up.

Delta rapidly weakened once it moved onto land, and had slowed into a tropical depression Saturday morning. Forecasters warned that heavy rain, ocean water from the storm surge and flash floods continued to pose dangers from parts of Texas to Mississippi.

A big concern ahead of the hurricane’s arrival had been that the winds would pick up the debris left by Laura — piles of soggy insulation, moldy mattresses, tree limbs and twisted metal siding — and turn it into projectiles. In at least some neighborhoods, the small mountains stood on curbs more or less intact.

But with the water knee-deep along Legion Street in Lake Charles, resident Patrick King had to wade through the water to get to his home after he returned Saturday from spending the night in Beaumont, Texas.

"I was hoping and praying that it didn’t get into the house, but it did. It rose up close to the furniture," King said.

Looking around the neighborhood, he ticked off the damage that Laura had done. One house demolished. One neighbor who lost a carport. Another with a gutted house who had already replaced the roof.

The wind wasn't the source of King's distress following Delta. It was the rain and flooding. Before evacuating, he had put sandbags and plastic in the doorway to keep water out of his one-story brick house. Pulling them back upon his return, he saw worms and spiders scurrying about inside.

"Look at that, look at that," he said. "Worms! My wife sees that she’s going to cry."

"It’s totally frustrating and in fact it makes you want to give up but you have to keep on pushing," he said. "Me and my wife, we are praying people so we just believe that God let things happen for a reason."

All night, Lake Charles resident Don Dixon worried as the wind howled and the rain poured.

"It was quite a night," he said, but when the sun came up and he surveyed his home, the damage wasn't as bad as he feared — far less than Laura's wrath. "All in all, we got punched in the face, but we’re getting back up."

Still, damage reached far inland, with trees shorn of leaves and falling onto streets in Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge. About 740,000 customers lost power in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, according to the tracking website PowerOutage.us.

"Rising water with all the rain is the biggest problem," Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso told KPLC-TV on Saturday. "It’s still dangerous out there, and we’re just going to have to start over from a few weeks ago."

He said vehicles overturned on Interstate-10, a lesson for anyone thinking about rushing back to the disaster area.

Delta has swirled over a wide swath of the United States, kicking up large swells and rip currents that closed beaches down to the Mexican border. The storm blew down two homes under construction in Galveston, Texas, and toppled the steeple of a church in Jennings, Louisiana.

A tree fell on the vehicle of Jackson-based WLBT-TV with its news crew inside. No one was injured.

By 7 a.m. local time, Delta was centered near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line and barely a tropical storm. Forecasters said remnants could spawn tornadoes in Tennessee Valley into Sunday, and flash floods could hit the southern Appalachians.

Delta, the 25th named storm of an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season, was the 10th named storm to hit the mainland U.S. this year, breaking a record set in 1916, Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach said.

The U.S. Gulf Coast is no stranger to hurricanes and its people are resilient, Lake Charles resident Katie Prejean McGrady said. But the double punch of the back-to-back storms — on top of the pandemic — has left many in the community reeling, she said.

"I’m taxed out. And I think that’s most people in town," she said. "There’s a mental exhaustion that sets in and then there’s a fear of ‘Does anybody outside this region care?’" she said. "The reality is our town won’t be the same for a year, if not longer."

McGrady and her family had just returned to their home for the first time since evacuating ahead of Hurricane Laura when she was nine months pregnant. They arrived back in Lake Charles last weekend, got a new roof on Monday and had to evacuate again Thursday.

"My husband hadn’t even unpacked his suitcase," McGrady said, who works for a Catholic publisher. "I had just put away my daughter’s toys."

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