US Gulf Coast residents scrambled with last-minute preparations Saturday as the outer bands of Hurricane Nate began lashing New Orleans amid fears the storm could intensify to a powerful Category Two hurricane.
Nate spawned widespread flooding and left dozens of people dead in Central America, the latest in a series of deadly hurricanes to hammer Caribbean islands, Mexico and the southeastern US in this exceptionally busy hurricane season.
But US President Donald Trump said federal officials were prepared for the fast-moving storm. He urged residents of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida on Twitter to “listen to your local authorities & be safe!”
As a weary and sodden region prepared for its third hurricane in two months – filling sandbags, stocking up on essential supplies or packing cars to flee – New Orleans, which was ravaged by deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and other cities on the coast were under a hurricane warning.
Nate’s center was located 180 miles (290 kilometres) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with winds swirling at 90 miles per hour, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said at 11:00am (1500 GMT).
The storm, a Category One hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, was intensifying as it moves toward the northwest rapidly at 26 miles per hour and is forecast to hit the Gulf Coast with winds of at least 96 miles per hour, the NHC said.
0:00 Louisiana governor warns of approaching tropical storm Nate Share Louisiana governor warns of approaching tropical storm Nate
‘Dangerous storm surge’
“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the NHC warned.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey tweeted that she had asked Trump for a presidential declaration of emergency, “to ensure we have all possible resources in place to respond to #HurricaneNate.”
Trump earlier issued an emergency declaration allowing federal aid to be sent to help mitigate the storm’s impact.
New Orleans issued a mandatory curfew for Saturday from 6:00 pm, and mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders were issued for certain low-lying areas.
Swells expected to affect the northwestern Caribbean over the weekend “are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the US forecasters said.
Officials said the recent hurricanes, devastating as they were, actually helped with preparations for Nate, since emergency supplies and assets deployed for the earlier storms were still in place. Still, the resources of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been stretched.
National Guardsmen were prepared to ride out the storm in the city’s huge Superdome arena, ready to respond once Nate passes over, the nola南京夜生活, news website reported.
Our great team at @FEMA is prepared for #HurricaneNate. Everyone in LA, MS, AL, and FL please listen to your local authorities & be safe!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2017’Prepare now’
As New Orleans braced for yet another powerful hurricane, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that “our greatest threat … is not necessarily rain, but strong winds and storm surge.”
The mayor urged residents in three areas under mandatory evacuation orders to leave by noon, when nearby floodgates were closing.
The city’s levee system has been considerably fortified since Katrina claimed some 1,800 lives in the region, but authorities warn that it has not completely eliminated flood risks.
Unlike Hurricane Harvey, which dumped record amounts of rain as it hovered over neighboring Texas for a week, fast-moving Nate was expected to pass through quickly along a northerly path.
Still, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned that Nate could cause unexpected damage.
“Anyone in low-lying areas … we are urging them to prepare now,” he said.
Oil rigs evacuated
In neighboring Mississippi, lines formed at gas stations in areas along the potential path of the storm. Off the coast, some oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have been evacuated.
The Entergy electric utility warned users that power outages could last as long as a week.
The United States is recovering from two major hurricanes: Harvey, which tore through Texas and then Louisiana in August, and Irma, which slammed Florida in September.
Another powerful storm, Hurricane Maria, ripped through the Caribbean in late September, devastating several islands, including Dominica and Puerto Rico, a US territory.
When Nate struck Central America on Thursday and Friday, at least 31 people were killed and others were still missing.
Intense rains forced thousands from their homes, uprooting trees, knocking out bridges and turning roads into rivers.
Authorities in some areas warned that crocodiles might be roaming after rivers and estuaries flooded.
The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from June to November.