BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – An emergency storm shelter for Louisiana residents fleeing Hurricane Delta was closed to newcomers on Friday as officials limited capacity over worries about the spread of coronavirus.
The state’s mega shelter, which can hold up to 2,000 people, has reached its pandemic limit of 833 evacuees, Governor John Bel Edwards said. It was a reminder of the dual crises facing the state, which reported an average of 734 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past week.
“Just because we’re dealing with a natural disaster doesn’t mean the public health emergency is going to call timeout,” said Edwards on Friday. A day earlier, he ruled out a further reopening of the state, renewing its emergency declaration for another 28 days.
Delta is forecast to hit the coast Friday evening with heavy rains, a “life-threatening” storm surge and maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour (177 kmh), forecasters said.
The state is referring arrivals to the mega shelter to other state-run shelters, before referring them after the storm to hotels, where they will be evaluated for continued sheltering.
Louisiana has had to contract with additional hotels during this year’s storms because of the pandemic, said Catherine Heitman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services.
The mega shelter has been used several times during past storms, most recently during August’s Hurricane Laura as a center to register evacuees being sent to hotels, Heitman said.
The American Red Cross, which is providing Louisiana with cots and ready-to-eat meals, has added to its website a guide on dealing with disasters during a pandemic.
“COVID-19 is likely to be with us for a long time, and that is why we must prepare a little differently for other disasters that may affect our communities,” its website said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by David Gregorio)