Howling winds in the darkness uprooted trees, knocked out power for tens of thousands and tested nerves as Hurricane Delta landed a glancing blow on Baton Rouge during its swipe across the state.
Heavy rains that had dumped nearly a foot of rain on northern East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes in advance of Delta on Thursday were replaced with relatively drier, cooler air, but the Category 2 Delta still had some pop after making landfall Friday evening in Creole and moving through Louisiana early Saturday.
Across the Baton Rouge area and stretching as far east as St. Tammany Parish, outer bands from the storm pushed peak wind gusts past 50 mph, even hitting 60 mph in New Roads late Friday, one of the highest recorded in the metro area, the National Weather Service office in Slidell reported.
The western and northern parts of Pointe Coupee Parish closer to the storm likely saw even higher gusts, according to parish emergency director Mark Ward.
“It packed quite the punch,” he said.
No tornadoes were reported, however, though forecasters had warned of a risk that Delta could spin some off.
The heavy winds were blamed for an electrical fire inside a former Donaldsonville grocery store converted into a local church, while Baton Rouge’s fire departments conducted four assists or rescues of people caught in houses hit by trees, authorities said.
Pointe Coupee Parish officials reported one injury from the storm, when a driver struck a downed tree around 3 a.m. in the northern part of the parish.
In West Feliciana Parish, a sheriff’s deputy wrecked his car and authorities had to cut their way through downed trees across roads to reach him late Friday night and then cut more trees to get back out as heavy winds wreaked havoc on the forested canopy in the rural parish, parish officials said.
As West Feliciana Sheriff Brian Spillman was trying to aid in a vehicle crash in which people had been injured, he himself was struck by a falling tree and “suffered a concussion, lacerations and several broken ribs,” his spokeswoman said.
“He was treated and released from West Feliciana Hospital,” the spokeswoman, Erin Foster, added Saturday.
As the sun rose Saturday, the breezy skies cleared and Delta was on its way out of Louisiana, the night’s turmoil was replaced with post-storm ritual: chain saws, rakes and new piles of woody debris.
Becky Lalonde, 79, who lives in Shamrock Gardens off North Flannery Road with her husband, was chatting with a neighbor after finishing up the yard cleanup as another neighbor’s leaf blower whined in the background.
On balance, it could have been worse. Lalonde’s home and neighborhood flooded in August 2016, but it was hardly threatened by the cresting Comite River on Saturday.
The rising river had blocked Greenwell Springs Road nearby and sent water rushing down Cherryl Drive Friday and Saturday but Lalonde was high and dry, if a little leafy.
Lalonde said she’s weathered 100 mph winds before in past hurricanes, too, so the 50 to 60 mph winds that likely arrived overnight in Shamrock Gardens were about what Lalonde expected.
Branches came down from pine trees, as well as “all those little twiggy branches” from elsewhere and more leafy ones, all of which were piled up under her carport.
“It’s mostly cleanup. I can’t say they’re all my leaves. They probably came from everywhere,” she said.
Sheriff’s departments and local governments reported downed trees and power lines blocking roads all across the Baton Rouge area. A tree fell on one home in Central, though no one was injured, the city police chief said.
Mark Armstrong, city-parish spokesman, said the city-parish had 140 road blockages from downed trees, lines or other debris. About half had been cleared by Saturday evening.
In Pointe Coupee, members of the National Guard and parish crews fanned out Saturday morning to clear numerous downed trees and power lines from roads. Authorities in Ascension reported similar efforts.
West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard said the parish was finally making enough progress to really open things back up Saturday afternoon.
The fire in Donaldsonville happened in the old National Food store building now home to Fountain of Faith Christian Center. Mayor Leroy Sullivan said the fire started on a vacant side of the building off La. 1 South sometime before 10:41 p.m. Friday.
The city fire department had called out for assistance Friday to help handle the fire amid the high winds brought by the hurricane, Sullivan said. Firefighters in Napoleonville assisted in the response, he said.
Sullivan said firefighters, who brought in a ladder truck, had to get water on the building from more than one side to keep the flames from spreading farther inside the building and toward a nearby gas station.
Former longtime city fire chief Chuck Montero, in a Facebook post, blamed Delta for causing service lines on the corner of the building to arc electricity.
There were no injuries, authorities said. Church officials were waiting to see if the electrical system was also damaged, the mayor said.
The Amite River in Denham Springs and downstream in Port Vincent was building for crests early Sunday and midday Monday, fueled with rain runoff primarily from Thursday night. Gavin Phillips, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Slidell, said the river will approach and cross into minor flood stage, which isn’t expected to pose a significant flooding risk.
Saturday, Livingston Parish homeland security officials said they hadn’t received any reports of flooding of homes along the river, while flooding in Central near the Comite was limited to low-lying parts of some neighborhoods with more chronic problems, City Police Chief Roger Corcoran said.
It wasn’t clear if any homes had flooded from the Comite’s rise in addition to what happened from heavy rains on Thursday.