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Still reeling from Hurricane Laura, Tropical Storm Sally has Louisiana in its sights

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star

Louisiana is looking down the barrel of another violent storm less than three weeks after Hurricane Laura carved a wide path of destruction that left more than a third of the state as a disaster zone.

Even as Tropical Storm Sally churns toward New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana, more than 82,000 people remain without power in Lake Charles and southwestern Louisiana and more than 210,000 households don't have clean drinking water.

The state is already sheltering about 13,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees, most of whom are in hotels in New Orleans in the possible sights of Sally, and tens of thousands more are displaced from their homes.

How much more can Louisiana take?

Tropical Storm Sally is forecast to make landfall in southeastern Louisiana early Tuesday morning as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph, bands that could drop "feet" of rain and a potential storm surge of 11 feet.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards discusses the coronavirus crisis during an August 4, 2020 press conference.

"We have every reason to believe this storm represents a very significant threat to the people of southeastern Louisiana," Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a Sunday afternoon press conference.

"New Orleans is better prepared for a hurricane than she's ever been before, but if you get 18 inches of water in 10 hours, I think Aspen, Colo., would probably flood. So I'm concerned, but not paralyzed by it."

Benjamin Schott, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in New Orleans, said Louisianans in southeastern Louisiana shouldn't compare Sally to previous storms Barry, Cristobal and Marco, which ended up to be duds.

"I do not believe we'll be that lucky this time," Schott said.

Schott forecast 15 inches of rain in New Orleans, 6-12 inches rain as an average in the region and areas under the heaviest bands "that can be measured in feet (24 inches or more)."

Edwards said unlike Laura, Sally will move into the coast slowly, raising the potential for flooding. He said the storm could take 10 hours to move from Kenner to Hammond.

"The slower it moves the longer it generates storm surge and the longer the rain bands have to drop torrential rain," he said.

Edwards said the latest track shifted west, "bringing more of Louisiana into play,  particularly the New Orleans metropolitan area," he said.

The governor said he spoke to President Donald Trump Sunday morning asking for a pre-landfall emergency.

Trump declared a major disaster in Louisiana following Hurricane Laura, which slammed into Cameron on Aug. 27 packing 150 mph winds as a Category 4 storm, the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana in at least 150 years.

So far 21 of the state's 64 parishes are covered for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency following Hurricane Laura with Caddo, LaSalle and St. Landry the latest parishes to be added.

Edwards said the state is shoring up protection for the 13,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees in New Orleans, where the Red Cross has taken over operations there.

"I can only imagine their frustration of having to move away from Laura and now being targeted by Sally," Edwards said. "We're going to make sure they're safe throughout this storm."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.