Janet McConnaughey, Melinda Deslatte And Jeff Amy, The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Coastal residents from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle braced for the effects of fast-moving Hurricane Nate, expected to hit sometime Saturday night – likely with Category 2 strength.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami projected that Nate would brush by the southeast tip of Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, around 7 p.m. Saturday. A late Saturday landfall projected for the Mississippi Gulf Coast posed a multitude of threats, including heavy rain, high tides and strong winds.
States of emergency were declared in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama; officials announced evacuation orders in low-lying areas and the opening of shelters for anyone who needs them.
A 7 p.m. curfew was declared for the city of New Orleans, whose fragile pumping and drainage system could face a major test once Nate strikes. System weaknesses – including the failure of some pumps and power-generating turbines – were exposed after an Aug. 5 deluge flooded homes and businesses in some sections of the city.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said 109 of its 120 pumps are functioning, which is 92 per cent capacity. Some 26 backup generators were in place. Efforts to clean thousands of street catch basins have been stepped up, with vacuum trucks dispatched to various areas to suck out thick mud and debris.
Landrieu also said flood-prone underpasses would be blocked Saturday to keep motorists from driving into standing water.
“Right now this storm should not bring us anything that we’re not prepared to handle,” Landrieu said Saturday.
Forecaster said Nate could dump 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimetres) of rain on the region — with isolated totals of up to 10 inches (25 centimetres).
Storm surge was as big a worry as rain. As is often done during the approach of storms, the city ordered evacuation of some low-lying communities near the water and its levee system — an estimated 1,000 homes. And communities along the Gulf and near Lake Pontchartrain were looking at the possibility of storm surge flooding.
In Mississippi, the state highway department said crews were lowering high masts that hold street lights along the coast to keep the lights from becoming projectiles in high winds.
On Alabama’s Dauphin Island — a barrier island south of Mobile, Alabama — owners hauled boats out of the water ahead of the storm’s approach. The major concern was the storm surge was projected to coincide with high tide. Shelters were being open for coastal residents.
“The west end of the island floods in a good thunderstorm,” said Chad Palmer, the owner of FinAtics Inshore Fishing Charters, which operates five charter boats on the barrier island.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he spoke with President Trump on Saturday morning. “He assured me that LA would have all the assistance we need as we prepare for #Nate,” the governor posted on Twitter.
Edwards thanked Trump for approving Louisiana’s pre-disaster emergency declaration for 17 south Louisiana parishes.
Nate was located at 10 a.m. CDT Saturday about 180 miles (285 kilometres) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was still a Category 1 storm but was expected to gain strength before making landfall.
Nate has already killed at least 21 people in Central America.
A hurricane warning is in effect from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border and also for metropolitan New Orleans and nearby Lake Pontchartrain. Tropical storm warnings extended west of Grand Isle to Morgan City, Louisiana, and around Lake Maurepas and east of the Alabama-Florida border to the Okaloosa-Walton County line in the Florida Panhandle.
In Louisiana, Edwards mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, some headed to New Orleans to monitor the fragile pumping system there. With forecasts projecting landfall on the central Gulf Coast as a Category 1 hurricane, Edwards urged residents to ready for rainfall, storm surge and severe winds — and to be where they intend to hunker down by “dark on Saturday.”
Edwards said forecasts for the fast-moving storm indicate the greatest threats are winds and storm surge. The hurricane centre warned that Nate could raise sea levels by 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 metres) from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. It had already had caused deadly flooding in much of Central America.
In neighbouring Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in six southernmost counties. State officials warned storm surge was the biggest danger in that state’s low-lying coastal areas, as well as high winds that could damage mobile homes. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced the opening of shelters on the coast Saturday.
Associated Press writer Kim Chandler in Alabama and Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.