As Hurricane Lili roared toward the mainland, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster declared the then-Category 4 storm "the real deal." Gov. Foster said he was "hoping for some divine intervention."
Looks like he got it.
Before Lili could blast ashore, the storm encountered too-dry air out of the west and too-cool water near the coastline, where, incidentally, the hottest Louisiana red-pepper sauce is made (Tabasco is bottled on Avery Island in New Iberia parish). That-among a combination of other factors still unknown-bumped Lili down to a Category 2 hurricane, still dangerous but drastically less powerful than officials expected.
"A lot of Ph.D. [dissertations] will be written about this" storm's rapid loss of strength, said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Meteorologists classify hurricanes from Category 1 (weak), which carry the potential for minimal damage to vegetation, to Category 5 (devastating), which pack winds in excess of 155 mph that can knock down buildings. The last major hurricane to strike U.S. shores was Andrew (a Category 5), which leveled parts of Florida's Dade County a decade ago, killed 58 people, and wrought $27 billion in damage.
Flooding is now the concern for officials and property owners in the immediate aftermath of Lili, the second storm to strike the state in less than a week's time. Isidore, downgraded to a tropical storm before making land, dumped 20-plus inches of rain on coastal Louisiana.
The governor asked for and quickly received from Washington "disaster area" status, which qualifies Louisiana for massive federal aid. The mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagen, appeared on CNN the morning Lili hit and said he was "having a blast" in his new job: "I've been on the job about five, six months, and, you know, lo and behold, I've had back-to-back hurricanes within 10 days or so." Added Mayor Nagen: "We dodged the bullet, thank God."