Hurricane Sally, one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic, closed in on the Louisiana-Mississippi coast Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 90 mph and the potential for up to 2 feet of rain that could bring severe flooding.
Rome GA Cares will be taking donations through Friday to help with relief from another storm, Hurricane Laura, and volunteers are headed to Beauregard Parish in Louisiana.
Right now, they’re asking for cleaning supplies, cases of bottled water, baby products — such as diapers, baby formula and wipes — and box fans. Brandy Womack said this is the first time they’ve had someone request baby supplies, but they’re collecting as much as they can.
According to Floyd County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain David Thornton, the group has collected $4,200 for the relief fund. People can donate on the Rome GA Cares Facebook page, mail a check to the group at 3 Government Plaza, Suite 110, Rome, Ga. 30161, or drop it off at the warehouse site.
On Sept. 21, around 10 people from FCSO, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church and members of Rome GA Cares will travel to Beauregard Parish, which sits on the border between Louisiana and Texas.
People can drop off supplies at North Rome Church of God at 1929 N. Broad St. from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Collection sites also are set up at Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church in Silver Creek and Pleasant Valley North Baptist Church on Old Summerville Road.
As relief efforts ramped up in Rome, storm-weary Gulf Coast residents rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies ahead of the new storm.
It was expected to reach Louisiana’s southeastern tip around daybreak Tuesday and make its way sluggishly northward into Mississippi on a path that could menace the New Orleans metropolitan area and cause a long, slow drenching.
Forecasters said Sally could be a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph by the time it nears the coast. It could give Louisiana its second pounding from a hurricane in less than three weeks.
Jeremy Burke lifted things off the floor in case of flooding in his Bay Books bookstore in the Old Town neighborhood of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a popular weekend getaway from New Orleans, about 60 miles to the west. The streets outside were emptying fast.
“It’s turning into a ghost town,” he said. “Everybody’s biggest fear is the storm surge, and the worst possible scenario being that it just stalls out. That would be a dicey situation for everybody.”
Sally has lots of company during what has become one of the busiest hurricane seasons in history —so busy that forecasters have almost run through the alphabet of names with 2 1/2 months still to go.
For only the second time on record, forecasters said, five tropical cyclones were swirling simultaneously in the Atlantic basin. The last time that happened was in 1971.
In addition to Sally were Hurricane Paulette, which passed over a well-fortified Bermuda on Monday and was expected to peel harmlessly out into the North Atlantic, and Tropical Storms Rene, Teddy and Vicky, all of them out at sea and unlikely to threaten land this week, if at all.
As of midafternoon Monday, Sally was about 160 miles southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi.
Sally’s sluggish track could give it more time to drench the Mississippi Delta with rain and push storm surge ashore.
People in New Orleans watched the storm’s track intently. A more easterly course could bring torrential rain and damaging winds to Mississippi. A more westerly track would pose another test for the low-lying city, where heavy rains have to be pumped out through a century-old drainage system.
Even with a push toward the east, New Orleans, which is on Lake Pontchartain, will be in the storm surge area, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. He said New Orleans “should be very concerned in terms of track.”
The National Hurricane Center forecast storm surges of up to 11 feet, including 4 to 6 feet in Lake Pontchartrain and 6 feet in downtown Mobile, Alabama, a city of about 189,000 people.
In eastern New Orleans, drainage canals were lowered in anticipation of torrential rains, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. New Orleans police went on 12-hour shifts, and rescue boats, barricades, backup generators and other equipment were readied, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said.
On Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura blew ashore in southwestern Louisiana along the Texas line, well west of New Orleans, tearing off roofs and leaving large parts of the city of Lake Charles uninhabitable. The storm was blamed for 32 deaths in the two states, the vast majority of them in Louisiana.
More than 2,000 evacuees from Hurricane Laura remain sheltered in Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans-area hotels, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
The extraordinarily busy hurricane season — like the catastrophic wildfire season on the West Coast — has focused attention on the role of climate change.
Scientists say global warming is making the strongest of hurricanes, those with wind speeds of 110 mph or more, even stronger. Also, warmer air holds more moisture, making storms rainier, and rising seas from global warming make storm surges higher and more damaging.
In addition, scientists have been seeing tropical storms and hurricanes slow down once they hit the United States by about 17% since 1900, and that gives them the opportunity to unload more rain over one place, like 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
Other Gulf Coast states urged residents to prepare for Sally.
In Jackson, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said the hurricane could dump up to 20 inches of rain in the southern part of the state. Shelters opened, but officials urged people who are evacuating to stay with friends or relatives or in hotels, if possible, because of the coronavirus.
People in shelters will be required to wear masks and other protective equipment, authorities said.
“Planning for a Cat 1 or Cat 2 hurricane is always complicated,” Reeves said. “Planning for it during 2020 and the life of COVID makes it even more challenging.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey closed beaches and called for evacuations.