Parishes and counties along the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi ordered evacuations and made last-minute preparations Monday as Tropical Storm Sally strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm is expected to be a hurricane when it makes landfall late Monday or early Tuesday.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves have declared states of emergency for their states.
“We have every reason to believe that this storm represents a very significant threat to the people of Southeast Louisiana,” Edwards said at a briefing Sunday afternoon.
In his briefing Sunday, Gov. Reeves said, “It needs to be understood by all of our friends in the coastal region and in south Mississippi that if you live in low-lying areas, the time to get out is early tomorrow morning.”
In New Orleans, the mayor issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents living outside of the parish’s levee protection system: Venetian Isle, Irish Bayou and Lake Catherine. Those areas could see storm surge of 7 to 9 feet, the National Weather Service said.
The city’s Sewerage and Water Board said all 99 of the city’s drainage pumps are available for service. The other two were under repair and expected to be up and running ahead of any potential impacts from the storm.
The town of Grand Isle, Louisiana, on a tiny barrier island in the Gulf, also issued a mandatory evacuation order to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday. Mayor David Camardelle already had asked campers, RVs and boats to leave the island beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the Jean Lafitte area of Jefferson Parish, too, including Barataria and Crown Point.
All of Jefferson’s 192 drainage pumps are operating, Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said Sunday.
“What happened in the past doesn’t matter,” Lee Sheng said at news conference. “We handle every threat the same … You can’t say, ‘I’m tired of this, I don’t want to do it.’ It doesn’t matter what kind of year we’ve had … we still have a major threat in front of us.”
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in St. John the Baptist Parish for Pleasure Bend and low-lying areas of the parish north of Interstate 10 in LaPlace, including Frenier, Peavine and Manchac. A voluntary evacuation order is in place for the rest of the parish.
Plaquemines Parish ordered mandatory evacuations for the entire East Bank of the parish and on the West Bank from Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery to Venice. A voluntary evacuation is in place from the community of Oakville to the Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery.
President Matthew Jewell ordered a mandatory evacuation for all St. Charles Parish residents, saying Sally could cause widespread power outages and cut off the availability of crucial and emergency services.
“We want residents to head our warnings and make preparations to leave now,” Jewell said Sunday.
Several parishes announced schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday, including Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and Terrebonne parishes. In Orleans Parish, all Monday courses will be delivered online. No face-to-face courses will meet on campus on Monday. All Tuesday classes (in-person, online and hybrid) are canceled.
Loyola University will have classes Monday until 4 p.m. but will be closed Tuesday. The University of Holy Cross, Nunez Community College and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary all plan to close.
The Louisiana National Guard tweeted that more than 1,200 soldiers and airmen along with 51 high-water vehicles, 32 boats, eight helicopters, and two engineer work teams were being deployed in southeast Louisiana in preparation for Sally.
Sally arrives less than three weeks after Hurricane Laura came ashore in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 27.
“Right now, I’m doing what everybody else that has any sense would do,” said Al Ward as he stocked up on propane Sunday at a hardware store in Gulfport, Mississippi. “I’m being prepared for the worst and hoping it will be as it has been earlier this year. We dodged the bullet.”
Ward told WLOX he has dealt with a hurricane every year since moving to the coast.
“If you want to enjoy the pleasures of what’s down here in South Mississippi, there are hazards that go with it as well.” he said.
Ward was one of many in south Mississippi preparing for Sally’s arrival.
Hancock County Emergency Management issued a mandatory evacuation beginning at 7 a.m. Monday for all low lying areas, residents living on rivers, river inlets, bayous, creeks, and in travel trailers. Also, modular homes, mobile homes, homes under construction and or partially constructed homes.
Officials in Pascagoula, Long Beach, Gulfport, Pass Christian and Biloxi told boat owners to move their vessels out of city marinas and harbors, WLOX reported.
Many schools along the coast announced they would dismiss students early Monday or close altogether. Districts that planned to close included Hancock County, Bay Waveland and Long Beach.
Officials in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties set up sandbag stations, WXXV reported.
Gulf Islands National Seashore closed islands and mainland areas of the national park in Florida and Mississippi because of Sally. The Davis Bayou Area and Mississippi islands including Petit Bois, West Petit Bois, Horn, Ship, and the NPS-owned portion of Cat Island closed at 5 p.m. Saturday. Campers at the Davis Bayou campground were told to evacuate by 9 a.m. Sunday.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents to prepare and stay informed about Sally’s path, The Associated Press reported.
“It is likely that this storm system will be impacting Alabama’s Gulf Coast. While it is currently not being predicted as a direct hit to our coastal areas, we know well that we should not take the threat lightly,” Ivey said.
Mobile County public schools and Gulf Shores City schools will be closed on Monday, WALA reported. The University of South Alabama moved Monday and Tuesday classes online.
The Baldwin County Commission was having an emergency meeting Monday morning to discuss preparations for Sally.
On Dauphin Island, Mayor Jeff Collier told residents to be ready for the storm.
”Once the conditions change, you don’t have a chance to tweak your plan, so we just need to go ahead and be prepared for the worst case scenario, and then as they say hope for the best,” Collier said.
Monday morning, Collier announced on his Facebook page that flooding was already happening on the west end of Dauphin Island.
Gulf Shores lifeguards closed the waters to the public Sunday night because of the high risk of rip currents, WALA reported.
Santa Rosa County and Escambia County schools closed Monday because of Sally, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
The University of West Florida announced all of its in-person classes are either going fully remote or are canceled from noon Monday through Tuesday. Pensacola State College closed Monday, too.