BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The latest forecasts have Hurricane Sally’s tracks shifting to the east, but Gov. John Bel Edwards says state remains on high alert as the dangerous storm continues to gain strength as it heads for the U.S. Gulf Coast.
What was Tropical Storm Sally has rapidly strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Monday morning, with 85 mph max sustained winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. The NHC said additional strengthening is expected, and the slow-moving storm is increasing the risk of heavy rain and dangerous storm surge before an expected strike as a Category 2 hurricane in extreme Southeast Louisiana early Tuesday morning or along the Mississippi Gulf Coast Wednesday.
Even with a shift to the east, Edwards said parts of Louisiana remain in the “cone of uncertainty,” including much of the New Orleans metro area, Plaquemines, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, and Washington parishes. But the governor warned that “one-third of the time, landfall will happen outside of the cone,” where it can go east or west of the predicted track, and that impacts can be felt outside the cone as well.
A Hurricane Warning for Sally is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana to the Alabama/Florida border, including New Orleans.
The threat of seven to eleven-foot storm surge remains the mouth of the Mississippi River into Mississippi along the Gulf Coast, and as much as eight to 16 inches of rain is possible thanks to the slow-moving nature of the storm.
Mandatory and voluntary evacuations have been ordered in some areas ahead of Hurricane Sally, including a voluntary evacuation for those in several parishes who live in areas outside the levee protection system. A mandatory order has been issued for the entire East Bank of Plaquemines Parish and part of the West Bank.
So far, there are no plans to evacuate the New Orleans metro area, which is where more than 12,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees are currently sheltering in hotels.
“If you’re one of those individuals,” Edwards said, “you should stay put in your shelter. We’re gonna be making sure that we continue to care for you there. We’re not gonna be evacuating in advance of Hurricane Sally, but we do want you to stay alert for updates from your shelter manager at your hotel.”
If the strength or track of Hurricane Sally shifts, Edwards said the state would likely have to open congregant shelters at least for some period of time until adequate hotel space could be found for them.
“And depending on how many evacuees it is, there’s almost certainly going to have to be hotels found outside the state of Louisiana to accommodate that,” said Edwards, who added that GOHSEP has been working with other states with assistance of FEMA to try to identify those areas that would be stepping up in order to take evacuees.
“But that is a real challenge. If it were forecast to be stronger, we could have to evacuate the New Orleans metro area, and it wouldn’t just be Hurricane Laura evacuees, but many more people so we’re thankful that we don’t have to do that at this point.”
Several hundred more Hurricane Laura evacuees from Southeast Louisiana are staying in hotels in Shreveport and Baton Rouge. There are also still 5,300 sheltering in Texas. Edwards said Texas will be submitting the costs of sheltering Louisiana citizens for the state to reimburse.
The governor’s pre-landfall request Monday for a federal emergency declaration has been signed by the president, making direct federal assistance available statewide and assistance for emergency protective measures are approved in the 30 parishes requested.
“I want to thank the President for his quick action on my request for federal assistance related to Hurricane Sally,” Edwards said in a statement confirming the approval Monday afternoon. “Though the track has shifted, Southeast Louisiana could still see impacts from Sally, which is now forecast to make landfall potentially as a Category 3, east of Louisiana. We are prepared to respond to whatever threats Hurricane Sally poses to the state.”
Edwards also said he and Louisiana’s agency heads have been communicating with Gov. Tate Reeves and their counterparts in Mississippi to coordinate resources depending on where Sally makes landfall. The governor said they have also shared insights and lessons learned about non-congregant sheltering in Louisiana following Hurricane Laura.
Gov. Edwards said he wanted to make clear that FEMA is bringing in additional resources, not moving resources brought in for Hurricane Laura, and that those recovery efforts will continue.
The Louisiana National Guard continues to have more than 4,800 guardsmen activated in response to both Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Laura. The State Fire Marshals Office, Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife also have teams and resources staged to respond to Sally, along with search and rescue groups on standby to assist if needed.