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Edwards: State prepares for big hit from Sally

Sally, the storm that became a Category 2 hurricane Monday, could make landfall Tuesday morning in Plaquemines Parish, which juts into the Gulf like a long, skinny target. Or it might land in Mississippi on Wednesday morning.

"I guess it could be both," Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a press conference.

Either way, the state is likely to feel the effects of Sally, possibly including slow-moving rain bands that flood southeast Louisiana with 12 inches of rain or even more.

St. Mary Parish is expected to escape the worst of Sally, which is still forecast to come ashore as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of at least 100 mph, a speed the wind reached Monday afternoon. At 4 p.m., the tropical storm warning for Morgan City to Intracoastal City was discontinued.

But Morgan City is on the western edge of the hurricane warning area that stretches east to the Florida Panhandle. Tropical storm-force winds extended 125 miles from Sally's center at 4 p.m.

In addition to the rain and wind, areas of extreme southeast Louisiana and Mississippi may see life-threatening storm surge of 7-11 feet.

The storm's center is irregular, making it hard to predict, Edwards said at Monday's press conference. Sally's projected track moved to the east earlier Monday, and one-third of tropical systems make landfall outside the National Hurricane Center's "cone" prediction. He urged people all along the coast to keep up with the storm's movements.

Sally would be the second hurricane to hit Louisiana in three weeks. Nearly 12,000 evacuees remain in Louisiana hotels, most in the New Orleans area, the governor said. There are no plans to move them before the storm.

President Donald Trump has signed an emergency declaration that will provide federal help with storm preparations, Edwards said.

The State Fire Marshal's Office and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have more than 200 boats ready for rescue work.

Louisiana officials have talked with Mississippi counterparts to see how they can help each other, the way Texas has helped Louisiana by putting up more than 5,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees, Edwards said.

Also Monday, the governor said the state's request for money to pay for the last week of $300-a-week federal unemployment assistance has yet to be approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The last round of federal unemployment enhancement would be for the week ending Sept. 5.

An executive order by the president in late July created the $300 enhancement, which, beginning in early August, was paid to workers idled because of COVID-19.. That was after a $600 enhancement approved by Congress expired July 31.

The money has been paid to unemployed workers on top of state benefits of up to $247 a week.

Meanwhile, the state unemployment trust fund, which contained about $1 billion when the pandemic began in March, is down to $143 million. By law, Edwards said, the state must borrow federal funds to replenish the fund when it reaches $100 million.

"I don't want to mislead people by saying the trust fund might go below $100 million," Edwards said. "It's going to drop below $100 million."

A possible renewal of the federal enhancement is caught in Washington politics. The Democratic-controlled House has passed a $3.5 trillion package that includes a new $600-a-week benefit. Senate Republicans put up a smaller package, reported variously at $300 million-$500 million, that needed 60 votes to pass and was rejected last week.

"That's another reason Congress needs to go work," Edwards said, "because we have all these unemployed people, not just in Louisiana but around the country."

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