Sally strengthens to hurricane, threatens US Gulf coast

Houston: Louisiana and Mississippi residents were under evacuation orders on Monday, local time, as Hurricane Sally churned across the Gulf of Mexico, ahead of expected landfall on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST), the US National Hurricane Centre said.

The second storm in less than a month to threaten the region, Sally was headed toward a slow-motion landfall that could dump damaging rains on the US Gulf Coast. Residents from Louisiana to Florida were told to also expect storm surge and high winds.

Tropical Storm Sally in the Gulf of Mexico before it strengthened to a hurricane.Credit:AP

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and will be the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States – something "very rare if not a record" said Dan Kottlowski, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather. Accurate data on historic tropical storms can be elusive.

Mississippi and Louisiana issued mandatory evacuation orders to residents of low-lying areas while Mississippi ordered its coastal casinos to close by late Monday afternoon.

“We are going to bear the brunt of this storm,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves told residents on Monday, warning that rainfall along the coast could exceed 50.8 cm.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards appealed for a federal disaster declaration and advised people living in Sally's path to flee.

A truck drives through seawater as Beach Boulevard floods in Waveland, Mississippi.Credit:AP

"We have to make sure that everything is tied down and out of the way so it doesn't float away or become airborne," said Steve Forstall, a Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, port employee.

In the coastal town, located roughly 80 km northeast of New Orleans, water from the bay was spilling onto the beach roadway early on Monday, local time. Workers were seen boarding up homes and securing items like trash cans that can become projectiles in high winds. Residents helped each other fill sandbags at a do-it-yourself station, and some people parked cars and boats on higher ground, anticipating flooded roads.

The US Coast Guard was limiting traffic from the Port of New Orleans, while energy companies slowed or cut refinery output and scrambled to pull workers from offshore oil and gas production platforms.

At 1pm local time, Sally was 210 km east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, packing sustained winds of 145 km/h, according to the NHC.

The storm will approach southeastern Louisiana on Monday night but not make landfall until sometime on Tuesday, local time, the NHC said. Its slow movement is expected to dump 20 to 40 cm on the coast and cause widespread river flooding.

An expected turn to the north is "going to be critical for the New Orleans area," said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider. Mississippi appears more likely for landfall, but Sally's biggest threat is that it will be a "rainmaker" across a wide swath of the Gulf Coast and drop much as 7.62 to 10.2 cm in areas as far inland as Atlanta, Foerster said.

Residents of southwestern Louisiana are still clearing debris and tens of thousands of homes are without power after Hurricane Laura left a trail of destruction. Sally's path remains east of that hard-hit area.

Damage from Sally is expected to reach $US2 billion to $US3 billion, but could exceed that if the storm's heaviest rainfall happens over land instead of in the Gulf, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which models and tracks tropical storms.


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