Hurricane Delta has weakened steadily after churning into a corner of southwestern Louisiana repeatedly battered by storms this year, sending residents scurrying out of harm's way and disrupting Gulf Coast energy production.
Delta made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, packing maximum sustained winds of 161km/h at 6pm on Friday near the town of Creole, the National Hurricane Center reported.
Within hours, its sustained winds had diminished to 120km/h and it was on the verge of being downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm.
The centre of Delta was on track to drift across central and northeastern Louisiana on Friday night and Saturday morning before moving into northern Mississippi and the Tennessee Valley, the NHC said.
"Rapid weakening is expected overnight and Saturday. Delta is forecast to weaken to a tropical storm tonight and to a tropical depression on Saturday," the NHC said.
Streets were deserted in the nearby city of Lake Charles as residents fled, filling hotels or taking shelter away from the path of the Delta, which struck weeks after Hurricane Laura ploughed ashore as a Category 3 storm in late August.
"In this community, there are a lot of homes that were damaged (by Laura), and so a lot of people are concerned about staying in that structure again," Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said in an interview.
Laura, which came ashore with 241km/h winds, "is still very fresh and very raw and I think that had something to do with more people evacuating for Delta," Hunter added.
Schools and government offices were closed and officials in a dozen parishes called for evacuations. Residents boarded up windows, sandbagged doors and moved out of the storm's path.
Energy companies cut back petroleum production in the Gulf of Mexico by about 92 per cent, or 1.7 million barrels per day, by Friday midday, the most since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 100 offshore platforms and hobbled output for months.
The US Coast Guard closed ports along the Gulf Coast from Beaumont, Texas, to Lake Charles ahead of the storm.
Delta was the 10th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season to make a US landfall this year, eclipsing a record dating to 1916.
Laura damaged tens of thousands of homes, leaving roofs across the region dotted with protective blue tarpaulins and more than 6000 people living temporarily in hotels.
Australian Associated Press
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