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Gulf Coast residents told to brace for “life-threatening” floods.
As Hurricane Sally churned slowly over the Gulf Coast early Tuesday morning, creeping along at just 2 miles per hour as it approached the coast, officials warned residents from Louisiana to Florida to prepare for possibly devastating flooding with the storm surge and heavy rain expected to build in intensity over the next 36 hours.
The storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 85 m.p.h. at 7 a.m., is expected to take a northward turn toward the coast of southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday afternoon. It is expected to make landfall Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.
“Although little change in strength is forecast until landfall occurs, Sally is still expected to be a dangerous hurricane when it moves onshore along the north-central Gulf Coast,” the National Hurricane Center said early on Tuesday.
A hurricane warning remained in effect for an area stretching eastward from the mouth of the Pearl River on the Louisiana-Mississippi border to Navarre, near the tip of the Florida panhandle — a distance of about 200 miles that includes Mississippi’s and Alabama’s entire coastlines.
A tropical storm warning covered the area west of the Pearl River to Grand Isle, La. — including metropolitan New Orleans — and east of Navarre to Indian Pass, Fla.
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi warned residents that the state stood to “bear the brunt” of Sally.
“This is the real deal, and it deserves your attention,” Mr. Reeves wrote on Twitter late Monday afternoon.
Across the Gulf Coast, officials urged residents to prepare for a volley of dangers, including flash floods, tornadoes and strong winds. An expanse of the coastline reaching from southeastern Louisiana to the Alabama and Florida state line faced the possibility of hurricane-level conditions, meteorologists said.
The surge could reach as high as six to nine feet from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Dauphin Island and the Mobile Bay in Alabama, according to the National Hurricane Center.
And meteorologists said a consequence of the storm’s slow pace was torrents of heavy rainfall compounding the surge, reaching as high as 30 inches in some areas from the Florida panhandle to Mississippi.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued in low-lying areas along the coast, and in New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered people living outside the protection of the city’s levee system to clear out.
Even before the storm shifted toward the Alabama shore, officials there moved to close beaches and urge residents and tourists to leave areas prone to flooding.
“Alabamians are no stranger to tropical weather and the significant damage these storms can do,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement on Monday.
As Sally nears, Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Laura.
Laura’s storm surge inundated a stretch of Louisiana’s western coast, and its winds of up to 150 miles per hour ravaged many communities, particularly in and around Lake Charles, a city of roughly 78,000 people near the Texas border. Roughly half a million people were evacuated in advance.
Laura’s anticipated storm surge of up to 20 feet — billed as potentially “unsurvivable” — turned out to be about 11 feet at most. And by many accounts, Louisiana was more prepared for the storm than it had been for Hurricane Rita in 2005, which became a benchmark storm for a generation.
Still, Laura unleashed misery and ruin, and its wind damage was said to be just as severe as Rita’s. As of late Tuesday, about 50,000 people in the Lake Charles area were still without power, according to a database maintained by Entergy, a large utility that supplies electricity in the area.
The office of Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, said on Monday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had already paid more than $89 million to people affected by Laura, more than two-thirds of it in housing assistance.
Mr. Edwards told residents that Sally would not distract from the work of cleaning up after Laura and restoring electricity and other utilities to the thousands who remained without service.
But Laura’s aftermath has clearly complicated preparations for the coming storm, as many who had fled destroyed homes or untenable living conditions now find themselves squarely in Sally’s projected path. Nearly 12,000 people were being sheltered in New Orleans hotels, state officials have said.
Residents in southern Louisiana have considered their exit strategies.
When Bobby Monsted III visited LA23 BBQ, his restaurant in Belle Chasse, La., on Sunday to board up the windows ahead of Hurricane Sally, the adjacent highway for which his business is named was busy with traffic headed north.
“It was just boat after boat after boat coming up the road,” Mr. Monsted said.
Mr. Monsted himself would join the armada, bringing his own boat from Venice Marina, near the state’s southernmost point, to a friend’s property. Though his business is in the heart of Plaquemines Parish, where he serves hungry hunters, fishers, oil and gas workers and military personnel, he was worried about the land to the south as Sally approached.
“It’s such a fragile area,” Mr. Monsted said. “If there was another hurricane like Katrina or even something smaller down there, there’s no more rebuilding. It’s just a waiting time bomb. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.”
In that region on Monday, Walter Heathcock grabbed a metal pole with marks painted at every foot and stuck it into water from the Gulf of Mexico that was lapping up in Boothville. Mr. Heathcock, a fishing guide, has made no plans to leave, but he does intend to know how much water Hurricane Sally might bring to his hometown. Within three hours, the water had already risen about eight inches, he said, but for now he was biding his time.
“We’re just catching a couple feeder bands here and there, so we’re riding around on a side-by-side, drinking beer with our guns,” Mr. Heathcock said, laughing and referring to his golf cart. “We’re survivors.” He added, “Hopefully we don’t run out of beer.”
Still, Mr. Heathcock acknowledged that his home was not the safest place to ride out a storm if things got worse, so he had an exit strategy if the tide did begin to turn.
“You got to go when the dark settles in,” Mr. Heathcock said. “This is how I do it: I have a four-wheeler in the back of a truck, and a mud boat or an airboat hooked to the back, so I’ll get to where I need to go.”
In Sally’s path: An island that’s seen its share of storms.
As Hurricane Sally crawled through the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, it was pummeling a patch of sea south of Dauphin Island, Ala., with sustained winds of 61 miles per hour. And the island was one of the places where the National Hurricane Center had forecast storm surges of four to seven feet.
Dauphin Island has seen its share of big storms since the 1990s. Two back-to-back hurricanes, Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005, destroyed more than 300 homes, for example.
The mayor, Jeff Collier, urged residents in a Facebook post on Monday to evacuate the island’s west end. He said the causeway that connects the island with the mainland, which was temporarily closed in June after a tropical storm caused flooding on the west end, would probably “become impassable at some point.”
Photos and videos posted to social media on Monday showed gray storm clouds looming above Dauphin Island homes sitting on wooden stilts, steps from the Gulf of Mexico.
“You can see clearly that the waves are up and the water’s starting to come over the road a little bit,” Greg Nordstrom, a meteorology instructor at Mississippi State University, said in a video that he made while leaving the island on Monday evening. “So if you’re on Dauphin Island, the time to leave is now.”
In 2012, a Times investigation found that Dauphin Island, which at the time had roughly 1,300 year-round residents, was one of many beachfront communities in the United States where federal subsidies had helped people replace small beach shacks with larger, more valuable homes — often with little consideration of whether it made sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas.
At least $80 million, adjusted for inflation, had gone into patching up Dauphin Island since 1979, or more than $60,000 for every permanent resident, the Times reported. And that did not include payments of $72 million to homeowners from the highly subsidized federal flood insurance program.
Reporting was contributed by Chelsea Brasted, Mike Ives, Rick Rojas, Daniel Victor and Will Wright.