By David Jacobs
Louisiana residents awoke Monday morning to find Hurricane Marco had weakened overnight into a tropical storm, as a second, more powerful storm continued its approach.
“The good news is we’re not going to have two hurricanes,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
But forecasters still expect Tropical Storm Laura to intensify into a hurricane as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. Laura is projected to make landfall as a strong category two hurricane near Lake Charles late Wednesday night, with the possibility of developing into Louisiana’s first category three hurricane since Rita in 2005.
At 10 a.m., Marco was producing heavy rain and gusty winds along the northern Gulf Coast, creating the possibility of rising water moving inland and threatening lives and property from Morgan City to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical storm conditions were possible as far east as the Mississippi/Alabama border.
But part of Marco had sheared off and was drifting toward Florida, leaving the storm smaller and weaker than had been feared. Similar conditions were not expected for Laura.
Laura on Monday was south of Cuba moving west-northwest and bringing heavy rain and flash flooding to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and portions of Cuba. Edwards said he was concerned that because Louisiana “caught a break” from Marco and other recent storms, residents might get complacent about Laura.
“We’re only going to dodge the bullet so many times,” he said.
Laura could bring 10 feet of storm surge to coastal Louisiana, Edwards said. The hurricane’s wind field could extend out more than 120 miles, possibly creating tropical storm-force winds from Baton Rouge to Houston.
Edwards urged residents to listen to local authorities about whether they should evacuate. He reminded them to include face coverings and sanitizer in their emergency kits and to try to maintain their distance from people who are not part of their households.
No state-run shelters have been opened yet. Edwards said mass shelters during the pandemic were a “last resort” because of the risk of contracting COVID-19 in congregant settings. State and local officials were working with FEMA to put evacuees in hotels and motels if necessary.
As of noon Monday, state officials were reporting 25,446 active confirmed cases of COVID-19, though public health officials believe the actual number of cases is likely higher. Almost 144,000 cases have been reported in total, and officials believed more than 118,000 of those people had recovered.
While many schools and government offices across the state were closed, Edwards said he still expected the Louisiana Workforce Commission to be able this week to send out federally enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week on top of state benefits, retroactive to Aug. 1.
On Sunday, when forecasters were expecting Marco to be more dangerous than it turned out to be, officials were asking residents to prepare to hunker down until Laura had passed.
“You’ve got a little more time now [to prepare for Laura],” Edwards said.
As of late Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center had discontinued all hurricane warnings pertaining to Marco. The storm was about 55 miles southeast of the Mississippi River with sustained winds of up to 50 miles per hour.
A storm surge warning still was in effect from Morgan City to Ocean Springs, Miss. A tropical storm warning was in effect from Morgan City to the Mississippi/Alabama border.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a state disaster declaration on Sunday, and requested an emergency declaration from President Donald Trump and FEMA for Public Assistance Category B (Emergency Protective Measures), which was granted.