Tropical Storm Nate could strike New Orleans as hurricane, kills 22 in Central America
Guido Amrein/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A tropical storm which killed 22 people in Central America is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane that could affect the U.S. Gulf Coast later this weekend.
Hurricane watches and warnings were already in effect for coastal areas of four southeastern U.S. states, including metropolitan New Orleans, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical storm warnings have extended into central Alabama, Mississippi, northern Georgia — including Atlanta — and the western panhandle of Florida.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Thursday as the state braces for a direct hit. Edwards mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 going to New Orleans to monitor the troubled pump and drainage system there.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, Edwards instructed Louisianans in affected areas to gather supplies now and be positioned to hunker down by 8 p.m. Saturday.
On Friday, Edwards’ pre-disaster emergency declaration request for 17 Louisiana Parishes was approved by President Donald Trump, according to a statement form the governor’s office. This will help the state to more easily access federal response resources in the event that they become necessary.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency for the city ahead of the storm’s approach. Landrieu warned that the areas outside of the levee protection system could see a 3-to-6-foot storm surge. A citywide curfew goes into effect at 7 p.m. Saturday, Edwards announced on Friday.
Landrieu said officials are working “around the clock” to repair all power and pumps for the city’s drainage system, which is stricken from flooding from recent rain. As of Thursday afternoon, 108 of the city’s 120 pumps were working, the mayor said.
St. Bernard Parish, just 5 miles southeast of downtown New Orleans, has declared a state of emergency and issued a mandatory evacuation for residents outside of the levee system.
St. John the Baptist Parish, located 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, issued a voluntary evacuation for areas north of the Interstate 55 exit ramp, specifically Peavine, Frenier and Manchac.
As much as a foot of rain could fall in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana with storm surge of 4 to 8 feet along the coast.
As of 5 a.m. on Friday, Tropical Storm Nate was moving off Honduras and re-entering the Caribbean Sea, according to the National Hurricane Center. The system strengthened into a tropical storm near the coast of Nicaragua Thursday.
Maximum sustained winds had strengthened to 45 mph and it was moving northwest at 14 mph, as of early Friday. The storm is expected to continue to strengthen Friday as it moves over warm water and crosses over Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula Friday night as a strong tropical storm with winds of about 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The resort cities of Cancun and Cozumel in Mexico will feel the full brunt of the storm.
The tropical storm pounded Nicaragua with rain heavy enough to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. Up to 30 inches of rain is possible in some areas of Central America through Friday night.
Nate could reach hurricane status as early as Saturday afternoon while entering the Gulf of Mexico. Its trajectory has it on track to make landfall somewhere between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday night or Sunday morning as a weak Category 1 hurricane, with winds of about 80 mph. Then, the storm is expected to weaken to a post-tropical system, according to the National Hurricane Center. But the track and the storm’s strength are subject to change.
Residents from Louisiana to Florida are being warned to monitor the system as it approaches this weekend. The area is still feeling the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In preparation for the storm, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency that went into effect at 7 a.m. ET Friday.
Ivey said in a press conference Friday that while the coast will experience the worst of the storm, Birmingham could experience strong winds and rain. Meteorologist Jim Stefkovich advised Alabama residents to be in a safe place by noon on Saturday.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 29 counties Thursday afternoon to prepare for the tropical storm’s approach.
Oil and gas companies began evacuating six production platforms on Thursday, the Bureau of Safety Environmental Enforcement said in a report. While one movable rig was taken out of the storm’s path, no drilling rigs have been evacuated, according to the report.
So far, the Atlantic has seen five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) during the 2017 season; two short of the record set in 2005, when seven major hurricanes hit.
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