Speedy Hurricane Nate closes in on Gulf Coast

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The Louisiana National Guard, New Orleans Police Department, and NOLA EMS inspecting high-water vehicles in advance of Hurricane Nate. (Photo: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu/Twitter via CNN)

(CNN) — As Hurricane Nate sprinted through the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, officials in Louisiana and other states implored residents to finish their storm preparations and get inside.

The core of Nate, where there are sustained winds of 90 mph, was speeding toward the mouth of the Mississippi River and an expected landfall during the night long the coasts of southeastern Louisiana or Mississippi.

Soaking rains were already present in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told residents to wrap up what they were doing and move to a safe place.

"We're in the fight now. The storm is on us," Landrieu told his city of some 400,000 people – 440,000 when you count the tourists this weekend.

The mayor told them to keep an eye on the latest developments, but remember that a Category 1 or 2 hurricane is still very powerful.

"It's gonna to hit you hard, it's gonna to hit you fast," Landrieu said.

Landrieu said he visited the city's drainage pumps facilities and he was pleased with the conditions.

He was not pleased that some in the low-lying city were having hurricane parties.

"That troubles me," he said.

Mississippi braces

Jackson County in coastal Mississippi has enacted a curfew that begins at 7 p.m. CT (8 p.m. ET), several hours before the powerful northeastern side of the core is expected.

Gov. Phil Bryant urged county residents to head north away from the Gulf but there was no mandatory evacuation.

Bryant declared a state of emergency for six counties and any others that might be affected by Nate, the state's emergency management agency said.

In Biloxi, Mayor Andrew Gilich was especially concerned about storm surge.

"The storm surge is a big thing that really traps everyone," he told CNN.

Gilich said he hopes Nate's direction and predicted speed "ease the blow."

The National Weather Service said: "Wind and rain impacts will be confined to southeast Mississippi with the greatest impacts along the Interstate 59 corridor and coastal areas."

Nate races toward land

New Orleans will be on the left side of the storm, forecasters said, with the worst conditions beginning at 7 p.m. CT.

The core of the storm could make landfall Saturday night around Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, where Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, hit in 2005.

Nate once was almost as fast as an Olympic sprinter, but began to lose speed as it made contact with the Gulf Coast. CNN meteorologists and forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said the storm could be a Category 2 hurricane when the eye of the storm comes ashore.

It was still a Category 1 storm, but had slowed from 23 mph, the hurricane center said in its 5 p.m. ET advisory.

Hurricane warnings were in effect in New Orleans, including Lake Pontchartrain, and from Grand Isle, Louisiana, east to the Alabama-Florida border. Storm Surge Warnings included the coast from Grand Isle to the Okaloosa/Walton county line in Florida and the northern and western shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

 

Evacuation orders were in place outside levees in New Orleans and Plaquemines Parish, and along the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts. President Trump on Friday declared an emergency in Louisiana ahead of Nate and ordered federal assistance.

In Mississippi, a dozen casinos, including the Beau Rivage and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, took the rare step of closing early as the storm moved in.

Strong winds expected

The storm's reach will be wide, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said, with strong winds affecting population centers from New Orleans to Panama City, Florida. Biloxi could experience gusts of 100 mph.

Nate was expected to knock down power lines and trees from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to the Florida Panhandle and possibly leave at least 1 million people without electricity.

"Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in these areas, as tropical storm conditions will first arrive in the warning area this afternoon," the hurricane center warned Saturday morning.

Nate could drop 3 to 6 inches of rain, with 10 inches possible in some areas, from the central Gulf Coast north across the Deep South, the eastern Tennessee Valley and the southern Appalachians through Monday, the hurricane center said. Flash flooding is a danger.

"Once it hits land, it looks like it's going to be very quick to move out of the area and then weaken," CNN meteorologist Jennifer Varian said.

New Orleans braces for impact

Nate would be the third hurricane to hit the US mainland in six weeks, after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of properties.

The storm has already carved a path of devastation in Central America. At least 28 people were killed Thursday in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. Hundreds were rescued from floodwaters and mudslides. Many lost power and running water.

 

Landrieu already had ordered a mandatory evacuation of the Venetian Isles, Lake Catherine and Irish Bayou areas, which are low-lying or outside the federal hurricane-protection system that underwent a $14 billion overhaul after Katrina. He also had declared a state of emergency.

Anticipating the storm and overnight flooding, Landrieu on Saturday reiterated a mandatory curfew due to start that night at 8 ET and to end when the storm passes. At least 1,800 workers were on standby to reconnect power, if needed, he said.

First responders, sewer workers and residents also prepared for flooding, mindful of summer rains that exposed deficiencies in the city's unique drainage pumping system.

Of the city's 120 main drainage pumps, three major and eight smaller ones were offline Friday night, city records show. Also, all 24 major pump stations had backup generators, records show, as only three of five turbines that help power the city's oldest, most powerful pumps were available for service, a city water utility spokeswoman told CNN.

Track Hurricane Nate

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for all of Louisiana on Thursday and mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, including some to help monitor New Orleans' drainage equipment, he said.

Storm surge feared along Gulf Coast

In Alabama, the Port of Mobile closed Saturday, meaning the Carnival Fantasy cruise ship would not be "making its scheduled call" there Sunday, the Mobile Alabama Cruise Terminal said.

The Bankhead Tunnel, a downtown major thoroughfare that passes under the Mobile River, was closed because of the hurricane, emergency officials and a reporter with CNN affiliate WPMI tweeted.

In Mobile, city workers checked storm drains for debris, took measures to avert power outages and deployed critical equipment.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who had declared a state of emergency in 29 counties, said Saturday that evacuation orders were in effect Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, with shelters open for those seeking higher ground.

"This is not the time to be complacent – do not risk your life or the life of your loved ones," he said in a statement. "Even if your home is not in the direct path of this hurricane, everyone in the Panhandle should be ready to follow your emergency plan and stay vigilant to weather alerts and updates from local officials."

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Speedy Hurricane Nate closes in on Gulf Coast."