US Gulf Coast braces for Hurricane Nate to make landfall potentially as Category 2 storm
iStock/Thinkstock(BILOXI, Miss.) — Hurricane Nate is threatening to slam into the Gulf Coast as a Category 2 storm Saturday evening, prompting Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to declare states of emergency as they order evacuations and mobilize resources in preparation.
Saturday afternoon, Nate was closing in on the U.S. coastline with 90 mph winds. As of 4 p.m. CT, the storm’s center was about 140 miles south of Biloxi, Mississippi, and just 50 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River along the southeastern Louisiana coast. The storm, a strong Category 1, has the potential to become a Category 2 before it makes landfall.
“Hurricane Nate is a dangerous storm,” said ABC News meteorologist Daniel Manzo. “It has the potential to bring life-threatening storm surge to parts of the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.”
The storm’s strongest winds are expected to be directly north and east from the eye of the storm. Tornadoes and flash floods are a “real concern” as the storm roars ashore and moves inland, Manzo said.
On Thursday, Nate brought deadly mudslides and flash floods to Central America as it traversed the western Caribbean Sea as a tropical storm.
Nate strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane late Friday night.
The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have all issued stern warnings to residents ahead of the storm’s expected landfall on the southeastern U.S. coastline.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Thursday and warned residents to prepare for heavy rain, storm surge and high winds. He has mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 going to New Orleans to monitor the troubled pump and drainage system there.
“No one should take this storm lightly,” Edwards said at a press conference Friday. “We do want people to be very, very cautious and to not take this storm for granted.”
Since forecasters don’t anticipate Nate to linger, but instead pass through relatively quickly, New Orleans officials expect its pumps to be able handle the water.
Still, 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.
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, the mayor said 108 of the city’s 120 pumps were working, which is 92 percent capacity.
In preparation for the storm, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on Friday morning declared a state of emergency in six southern counties and issued an executive order authorizing the use of the state’s National Guard.
“If you are in an area that has flooded, I would recommend you evacuate that area until the storm has ended and the water has receded for your own personal safety and for the safety of the first responders that will be responding in the event you are trapped,” Bryant said at a press conference Friday.
A curfew has been issued for Harrison County and includes the coastal cities of Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi and D’Iberville as well as all rural areas of the county, starting Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET until Sunday morning at 9 a.m. ET.
All Mississippi Coast casinos are closing at 5 p.m. ET Saturday, according to the Mississippi Gaming Commission. A number of casinos have already closed their gaming floors. Some hotels will remain open to guests, while others will close to guests, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency that went into effect Friday morning. Ivey said that while the coast will experience the worst of the storm, Birmingham could experience strong winds and rain.
“It has become clear that Alabama, especially on our coast will experience some of the worst conditions from this storm,” Ivey said at a press conference Friday. “Alabamans, you must prepare and be vigilant. This is serious business.”
Curfews issued for Gulf Shore, Alabama, and Orange Beach, Alabama, start Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET and go until Sunday morning at 6 a.m. ET.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 29 counties.
Mandatory and voluntary evacuations were underway in anticipation of Nate’s arrival. In Louisiana, 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. And St. John the Baptist Parish, located 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, has issued a voluntary evacuation for areas north of the Interstate 55 exit ramp, specifically Peavine, Frenier and Manchac.
In Mississippi, residents in Hancock, Harrison, Pearl River, Jackson, Stone and George counties living in flood prone areas or mobile homes were asked to find another place to hunker down until the storm passes. A number of evacuation shelters away from the coastline were scheduled to open Saturday and transportation will be provided for residents who are unable to drive, according to the governor.
Shelters are also open in coastal Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said dozens of offshore oil and gas platforms as well as drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have been evacuated.
Beaches are closed in Mississippi, Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide is expected to raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Mississippi-Alabama border. Water levels could rise 6 to 9 feet from the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Alabama-Florida border and 4 to 6 feet from the Alabama-Florida border to Florida’s Okaloosa-Walton County line.
Through Monday, Nate could produce rainfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches, with a maximum of 10 inches, east of the Mississippi River from the central Gulf Coast into the Deep South, the eastern Tennessee Valley and the southern Appalachians. The area cross the Ohio Valley into the central Appalachians could see 2 to 4 inches, with a maximum of 6 inches.
The National Hurricane Center also warned “a couple of tornadoes will be possible” starting late Saturday afternoon over parts of the central Gulf Coast region.
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