Residents of Louisiana, Cuba evacuate as twin storms target a U.S. coast

(Reuters) – Coastal residents in low-lying areas of Louisiana and Cuba were evacuated on Sunday as roads turned into rivers in Haiti’s capital as twin hurricanes threatened the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf Coast.

Marco, which intensified after a hurricane on Sunday and is expected to hit the Louisiana coast on Monday, will be followed by Tropical Storm Laura, now across the Dominican Republic and Haiti and heading for Cuba, and expected to intensify after a hurricane before hitting the Gulf Coast on Thursday.

At least three people, including a mother and her 7-year-old son, died in the Dominican Republic from collapsing walls. Laura left more than a million in the country without electricity, forced more than a thousand to evacuate and caused several houses along the Isabela River to collapse, authorities said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned state residents on Sunday that tropical storm-force winds would arrive Monday morning and they must be ready to drive out both Marco and Laura. “Where you’re in the dark tonight is where you need to be ready to ride out these storms,” ​​Edwards said.

Laura could intensify and become a Category 2 or 3 hurricane and move west, closer to the Houston-Galveston area, bringing torrential rains late Wednesday or Thursday, said Chris Kerr, a meteorologist and director of offshore forecasting for DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider.

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, videos on social media have shown people blowing waist-deep in muddy water in some of the worst flooding the capital has seen in years. Haiti is particularly vulnerable to intense rains due to sluggish infrastructure and deforestation, which increases the chance of runways.

Authorities called on residents along the Artibonite River to evacuate because of risks that the Peligre Hydroelectric Dam’s banks would burst.

Haiti was the first to report a death of Laura, where a 10-year-old girl was killed when a tree fell on her house in the southern city of Anse-a-Pitres.

Hoping that the mountains of Hispaniola would ease the storm, Cuba crawled on Sunday to prepare for Laura.

Evacuations were taking place in eastern parts of the largest island in the Caribbean, where the storm was expected to hit Sunday night, bringing floods before traveling across the entire island on Monday.

Back-to-back hurricanes that arrive on the U.S. coast within days “can result in a prolonged period of dangerous weather,” warned Stacy Stewart, observer at National Hurricane Center on Sunday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent teams to emergency operations centers in state capitals in Louisiana and Texas, said spokesman Earl Armstrong. The agency is ready to deal with back-to-back storms, he said, pointing to 2004 when four hurricanes targeted Florida in a six-week period.

Officials on the coast of Louisiana’s Lafourche Parish ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents of low-lying areas at noon. The U.S. Coast Guard also issued a warning to the Port of New Orleans, calling on ships to make plans to evacuate some areas.

The potential for flooding and evacuations added to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Tulane University, the largest private employer in New Orleans, said it will close its test center on Monday due to potential flooding and power outages and is urging students to adhere to social distance guidelines.

In Grand Isle, at the southern tip of the state, authorities place sandbags to support its protective levy, while energy companies shut down workers from offshore platforms and shut down production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The city of Port Arthur, Texas, said on Sunday that it ran out of sand and sandbags for residents.

FILE PHOTO: A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) controls the storm Laura trajectory in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic August 22, 2020. REUTERS / Ricardo Rojas

Equinor has ready to evacuate its Titan oil production platform in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and shut down oil production at the facility, a spokesman said on Sunday. BHP Group Plc also shut down and evacuated its Shenzi and Neptune oil platforms, a spokeswoman said.

Oil producers including BP Plc, Chevron Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc had closed 57.6 %% of the region’s offshore oil production on Sunday. Also, 44.6% of natural gas production was shut down.

The region contains 17% of total U.S. oil production and 5% of U.S. natural gas production.

Report by Jennifer Hiller, Marc Frank, Gary McWilliams, Barbara Goldberg; Edited by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker

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