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Louisiana prepares for two storms less than 48 hours apart.
Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said on Monday that the weakening of Tropical Storm Marco had eased concerns about the state being walloped by a pair of tropical storms in rapid succession, but he urged residents to maintain their vigilance as a second storm, Laura, followed close behind and was still expected to pack a considerable punch.
Marco, which was expected to make landfall on Monday night, had been upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane this weekend before dissipating back to tropical storm strength, and might be a tropical depression when it reaches land. The National Hurricane Center said that although Marco was no longer a hurricane, it could still bring storm surge and several inches of rain to parts of the Gulf Coast.
Laura, which was bringing damaging wind and rain to parts of Cuba as it raked the southern coast of the island on Monday, was projected to intensify into a Category 2 hurricane this week as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico and heads toward the Louisiana coast. It was expected to make landfall late Wednesday.
“I guess if I’ve got a message, it’s not to assume that Laura is going to do a similar favor, and the forecast for Laura remains very much like it was yesterday,” Mr. Edwards said during a briefing on Monday, calling Laura a “significant storm.”
Still, he acknowledged a sense of relief by the changed forecast for Marco. On Sunday, he had warned of a “one-two punch” of storms barreling toward Louisiana, describing them as a rare and formidable challenge. But the forecast now, he said, was “markedly different than it was yesterday afternoon.”
“We’re going to catch a big break in terms of that storm not being a hurricane,” he said of the updated forecast.
Although preparing for tropical storms has become a matter of routine for much of coastal Louisiana, the dual threat had spurred a heightened sense of unease.
The storms and the coronavirus pandemic were a potential triple threat to Louisiana, John Hawkins, a vice president overseeing distribution operations for Entergy Louisiana, an electric company, said in a statement.
“This has been an unprecedented year for everyone,” he said, “but I’m confident we have the resources and manpower necessary to successfully respond to what is another unique set of challenges.”
Cameron Parish in the southwestern part of Louisiana issued a mandatory evacuation order starting at 1 p.m. Monday. And in Port Arthur, Texas, near the border with Louisiana, the mayor, Thurman Bartie, told local news reporters that he planned to issue a mandatory evacuation order for the city effective at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
Parts of the city were already under a voluntary evacuation order on Monday, and the school district has canceled classes for Tuesday through Friday.
Brad Kieserman, the vice president for disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross, said it would help relief efforts that the weaker storm was coming first.
“If the first hit you take is the lighter hit, you can prepare yourself for the harder hit,” Mr. Kieserman said. “That right hook that Marco is going to provide us, that is not the harder hit. While there will be limited opportunity to move resources around between Marco and Laura, it’s not no opportunity.”
While two storms in such rapid succession might be remarkably rare, he said, the Red Cross has become well practiced at juggling multiple disasters, as it is now with the storms on the Gulf Coast and the wildfires in California.
“This rapid fire pace we’re at right now is something, unfortunately, we’ve had to do and improve at in the last five years,” he said, noting that there have been at least 10 disasters with more than $1 billion in uninsured loss in the past several years.
He said the turbulence caused by the coronavirus and its repercussions on the economy had not impaired the Red Cross’s recruitment of new volunteers. Some 5,000 people have gone through volunteer training programs in recent months.
“I don’t think people are backing away from volunteerism when their neighbors are in need,” Mr. Kieserman said.
The Gulf hasn’t had two such powerful storms at once in more than 60 years.
Meteorologists often have more than one powerful storm system to watch in the Atlantic, but it is extremely rare for the Gulf of Mexico to have a hurricane and a tropical storm at the same time. And there is no record of there ever having been two hurricanes there at once, according to the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The closest the Gulf has come to two hurricanes at once was on Sept. 4, 1933, when one storm was over South Florida and another was far to the west near Texas.
The last time there was both a hurricane and a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico was in 1959, Joel Cline, a tropical program coordinator for the National Weather Service, said on Saturday.
News that the two storms were on converging paths led many people to wonder on social media whether they might merge to form a single monster storm. Meteorologists say it will not happen; the way the storms spin would make them repel one another, not draw them together.
But that does not mean they cannot compound one another’s damaging effects. Benjamin Schott, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said on Sunday that there was the potential for rain bands extending out from the storms to overlap in some places, dropping one to two feet of rain.
Energy companies evacuate workers from offshore platforms as storms approach.
Oil and gas companies evacuated workers from offshore production platforms while as Marco and Laura were making their way toward the Gulf of Mexico.
By midday Sunday, companies had evacuated 114 platforms, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is part of the Interior Department. Those platforms make up nearly 18 percent of the 643 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
At least 58 percent of Gulf oil production and 45 percent of natural gas output was “shut-in,” a standard procedure in which safety valves below the surface of the ocean floor are closed to prevent the release of oil or gas.
“We are nearing completion of the evacuation of all nonessential personnel,” Royal Dutch Shell said in a statement on Sunday. “We have safely shut in production at all but one of our assets in the Gulf of Mexico. All well operations have now been safely secured.”
Shell also said it would screen all of its workers for the coronavirus before they returned to work after the storms had passed.
It is common for energy companies to evacuate offshore workers in anticipation of hurricanes or tropical storms. Forecasters are most worried about Laura, which is expected to become a hurricane before hitting the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of the week.
Virus testing at state sites is suspended across Louisiana through Wednesday.
Officials suspended coronavirus testing sites in Louisiana on Monday as the state prepared for impacts from Tropical Storms Marco and Laura.
Though tests remain available through hospitals and urgent care facilities, the state closed its own sites through at least Wednesday, said Kevin Litten, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health.
The shutdown of the testing sites will likely create “some kind of disruption in data collection,” Mr. Litten said, but it is unclear how that will play out as the state awaits the storms.
Without testing for at least two days, there will likely be a jump in cases when testing resumes, Mr. Litten noted, adding that any power outages at reporting facilities would also quite likely affect data collection.
Even with a busy Gulf of Mexico, state officials are still asking for anyone with coronavirus symptoms or known exposure to those who have tested positive to self-isolate and get tested as soon as possible.
South Louisiana, which is expected to bear the brunt of the storms, is among the hardest-hit areas of a state that has recorded at least 143,000 cases of the coronavirus and nearly 4,750 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
At least 59 new coronavirus deaths and 1,223 new cases were reported in the state on Sunday. Over the past week, there have been an average of 720 cases per day, a decrease of 57 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
Reporting was contributed by Chelsea Brasted, Gillian Friedman, Christina Morales and Rick Rojas.