Hurricane Delta made landfall early Wednesday along the Yucatan Peninsula, packing winds estimated at 110 mph, toppling trees and cutting electricity to parts of the tourist meccas of Cancún and Cozumel, before moving to the Gulf of Mexico on a track that could see it hit the U.S. coast on Friday.
The storm made landfall about 23 miles south of Cancún around Puerto Morales. As of midday Wednesday, there were no reports of deaths or injuries in Mexico from the storm.
Delta then moved into the Gulf of Mexico, heading northwest at 17 mph, forecasters said. By 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET), the hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, the National Hurricane Center said, which puts it as a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
But forecasters expect Delta to strengthen as it picks up steam from the Gulf’s warm waters, eventually becoming a “major hurricane” again — although it could weaken as it approaches the U.S. coast. New Orleans’ mayor said she expected it to possibly be a Category 3 by landfall.
“The warm water, not a whole lot of [wind] shear, you’re going to have time to get stronger,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a video briefing Wednesday. He urged people along the Gulf coast to make preparations Wednesday and Thursday.
Delta will next steam toward U.S. coast
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for the Gulf Coast between High Island, Texas, and Grand Isle, Louisiana, and a tropical storm watch for areas further west and east, including New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.
Tropical force winds could begin in U.S. Gulf Coast communities by Thursday night, and on Friday there is an increasing likelihood of a life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds, especially along the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi.
Delta is expected to make landfall along the central Gulf Coast Friday or Friday night, possibly in Louisiana.
States of emergency 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 its 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.
In an announcement of Alabama’s state of emergency, Ivey said her state is still recovering from Hurricane Sally and said workers doing cleanup 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 explained Tuesday.
In a statement with his disaster declaration, Louisiana Gov. Jon Bel Edwards called Delta “an incredibly dangerous storm that will bring heavy winds, rain and life threatening flooding and storm surge to coastal Louisiana.”
“All of Louisiana’s coast is in the tracking cone, and we are well aware that impacts can be felt outside of the track,” Bel Edwards said, advising south Louisiana residents to pay close attention to weather reports and heed the orders of emergency response officials.
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, due to damage to their homes.
Also in anticipation of the storm on Tuesday, the National Park Service 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 on Wednesday issued declared a state of emergency. The heaviest rain and strongest wind in that state was expected to be felt Friday afternoon in southwest Mississippi and along the Mississippi River, he said.
“Prep for the worst. Pray for the best. God bless and stay safe,” Reeves said in a statement.
Delta will be the 10th hurricane landfall on the mainland U.S. this season, setting a new record for the number of landfalls in a single season.
Tourists hunkered down
Prior to its landfall in Mexico at about 6:30 a.m. ET, Delta increased in strength 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 that 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 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 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 in the two states.
Much of Cancun’s hotel zone was cleared out as guests were bused to inland shelters. In Cancun alone, the government opened 160 shelters.
Some 300 guests and nearly 200 staff 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 sheltering with his wife, Rashonda Cooper, and their sons, 7-year-old Liam and 4-year-old Easton.
“This is my first (hurricane) experience, but I see that these guys have a plan and they know what they’re doing,” Sims said.