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Louisiana Braces For 'One-Two Punch' Of Storms As Marco And Laura Approach Shore

The probable track of Tropical Storm Marco, according to the National Hurricane Center.
National Hurricane Center
The probable track of Tropical Storm Marco, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Updated 3:25 a.m. ET Monday

Louisiana is bracing for what officials are warning will be a "one-two punch," as two major storm systems are expected to hit the state within 48 hours of each other.

Hurricane Marco, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, had been gaining speed and strength as it crossed through the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to make landfall Monday. On Sunday it was declared a Category 1 hurricane.

Following close behind is Tropical Storm Laura, which forecasters say may be a Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes landfall within days.

If the two systems develop into hurricanes simultaneously, it would be the first time on record that the Gulf of Mexico has had two hurricanes at the same time, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

As Marco approaches shore, harsh storm conditions are possible early Monday along portions of the Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Cities from Morgan City, La., to Ocean Springs, Miss., could see a storm surge of 4 to 6 feet — especially if the peak surge occurs during high tide. Sabine Pass, Texas, to Morgan City, La., could see a storm surge between 2 and 4 feet, as could the area from Ocean Springs to the Mississippi-Alabama border.

"The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline," the NHC said.

Tropical Storm Laura, which has already drenched Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is moving west-northwest at 21 mph, the NHC said. It is expected to strengthen as it approaches the Florida Keys during the next couple of days and approaches Louisiana. The storm is forecast to become a hurricane late Tuesday.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned that the brief window of time between the storms could lead to a dangerous situation for residents.

"The temporal proximity and the geographic proximity of these storms pose a challenge that, quite frankly, we've not seen before," Edwards said Sunday. "As a result, we don't know exactly what to expect," he said, warning it's a "very serious situation."

"These storms are not to be taken lightly, especially because there are two of them and they're going to impact so much of south Louisiana so close together," Edwards said. The governor encouraged families to be prepared to ride out the storms wherever they are on Sunday night.

Complicating matters is the coronavirus pandemic.

"We still have a lot of COVID-19 in Louisiana, tens of thousands of cases across the state, and as many of half of which are completely asymptomatic. So that makes this a very difficult emergency to manage without having the natural disaster on top of it," Edwards said. People should continue to wear masks, keep physical distance and wash their hands regularly, he said.

State officials say mass sheltering is typically not needed for hurricanes weaker than Category 3. But if mass shelters are required, officials say they are prepared to segregate by family and will have protocols in place for thermometers and personal protective equipment to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The governor urged residents to prepare to take cover, warning they will essentially be on their own for the first few days.

"The first 72 hours is on you," Edwards said. "That is because the second storm comes in so close that there may not be much of a window when we can fly search-and-rescue helicopters, when we can get out with high-water vehicles and those sorts of things."

Characterizing the storm systems as a "one-two punch," the National Weather Service's meteorologist in charge in New Orleans, Benjamin Schott, urged residents to take precautions now in advance of the high winds, storm surges and likely power outages.

"Category 1 hurricanes still put a lot of people at risk to not only lose property but also their lives," Schott said. "Though the winds may not be the greatest threat, there will be a significant threat when it comes to the rainfall."

Southeast Louisiana risks a significant amount of rainfall causing flash flooding, making it dangerous for anyone who is trying to travel, Schott said.

"There will be a continuous flow of water into areas across coastal Louisiana, which will just enhance the coastal flooding even beyond Marco's reach and into Laura's reach later on in the week," Schott said, warning that 3- to 6-foot storm surges are likely.

Marco is expected to approach Texas on Tuesday evening. At that point, Laura is expected to be a Category 2 hurricane working its way toward Louisiana.

"It may have a pretty significant wind punch," bringing a storm surge of 7 to 10 feet across southern Louisiana, Schott said.

Mississippi will also see a lesser storm surge, with continued coastal flooding from multiple days of wind pushing water inland. Both hurricanes could bring at least 5 to 10 inches of rain, with some spots in Louisiana seeing as much as 2 feet of rainfall. Both states have declared states of emergency in advance of the storms.

"There are significant impacts from these storms that go beyond the wind, and I think water is the one that we need to respect the most, whether it be at the coast with the surge of coastal flooding or whether it be inland with the heavy rain and flash flooding," Schott said. "All of this can destroy property and take people's lives."

Edwards requested a federal emergency declaration from the White House on Saturday. As of Sunday afternoon, that request was still "pending at the White House," Edwards said.

Power companies in the state have activated their emergency response plans to prepare to restore power to customers as quickly as possible, said the Edison Electric Institute, which represents electric companies throughout the United States. Offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf evacuated platforms and rigs on Saturday in preparation for the storms.

The National Guard is pre-positioning personnel and high-water vehicles across southern Louisiana, as well as sandbags and generators, in anticipation of the storm, Edwards said, noting that 1,800 guardsmen are on drill duty and ready to provide support. The state has also been in close coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has positioned two aid packs, each containing thousands of emergency food packets.

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Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").