Residents in low-lying coastal areas of Louisiana and Cuba were evacuating on Sunday, while roads turned to rivers in Haiti’s capital city, as twin hurricanes threatened the Caribbean and US Gulf Coast.
Marco, which strengthened to a hurricane and is forecast to hit Louisiana on Monday, will be followed by Tropical Storm Laura, over the Dominican Republic on Sunday and expected to travel across Hispaniola and Cuba and strengthen to a hurricane before striking the US on Thursday.
At least three people died, including a mother and her seven-year-old son, in the Dominican Republic due to collapsing walls. Laura left more than a million in the country without electricity, forced more than a thousand to evacuate and caused several homes along the Isabela river to collapse, authorities said.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards warned residents tropical storm-force winds would arrive by Monday morning and they should be ready to ride out both Marco and Laura.
“Wherever you are at dark tonight is where you need to be prepared to ride out these storms,” he said.
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, videos on social media showed people wading waist-deep in muddy water in some of the worst flooding seen in years. Haiti is especially vulnerable to intense rains due to poor infrastructure and deforestation which increases the likelihood of landslides.
Authorities called on residents along the Artibonite river to evacuate, as the Peligre Hydroelectric Dam might fail.
Haiti was the first to report a death from Laura: a 10-year-old girl was killed when a tree fell on her home in the southern town of Anse-a-Pitres.
With hopes dashed that the mountains of Hispanola would weaken the storm, Cuba scrambled to prepare. Evacuations were under way in eastern parts of the island, where the storm was expected to strike on Sunday evening, bringing flooding.
Back-to-back hurricanes arriving at the US coast within days “could result in a prolonged period of hazardous weather”, National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart warned.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent teams to emergency operations centers in state capitals in Louisiana and Texas, said spokesman Earl Armstrong. Fema is prepared to handle back-to-back storms, he said, pointing to 2004 when four hurricanes hit Florida in six weeks.
Officials in Louisiana’s coastal Lafourche Parish ordered a mandatory evacuation for low-lying areas at noon on Sunday. The US coast guard also raised its warning for the Port of New Orleans, calling for ships to make plans to evacuate some areas.
The potential for flooding and evacuations added to worries about the spread of Covid-19. Tulane University, the largest private employer in New Orleans, said it would close its testing center on Monday due to potential flooding and power outages and called on students to maintain social distancing guidelines.
In Grand Isle, at the state’s southern tip, authorities were placing sandbags to bolster its protective levy while energy companies continued to pull workers from offshore platforms and shut production in Gulf of Mexico wells.
Laura could strengthen and become a category 2 or 3 hurricane and move west, closer to the Houston-Galveston area, bringing flooding rains late on Wednesday or Thursday, said Chris Kerr, a meteorologist and director of offshore forecasting for DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider.