Louisiana orders evacuations as twin storms take aim at U.S. coast

FILE PHOTO: A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Storm Laura in Santo Domingo

(Reuters) – Louisiana residents were ordered on Sunday to evacuate low-lying coastal areas as back-to-back hurricanes were forecast to bring strong winds and rain, striking the state within days of one another this week.

Tropical Storm Marco, which is forecast to hit the Louisiana coast with hurricane-force winds on Monday, will be followed by Storm Laura, now over the Dominican Republic and expected to travel across Hispaniola and Cuba and strengthen to a hurricane before striking Louisiana on Thursday.

Twin hurricanes arriving at the U.S. coast within days “could result in a prolonged period of hazardous weather,” National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart warned on Sunday.

Officials in Louisiana’s coastal Lafourche Parish ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents of low-lying areas at noon on Sunday. The U.S. 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 will 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 the U.S. Gulf of Mexico wells.

Oil producers including BP, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell had shut 13% of the region’s offshore oil production on Saturday. The region accounts for 17% of total U.S. oil production and 5% of U.S. natural gas output.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)