Hurricane Nate raced swiftly over the central Gulf of Mexico yesterday, gaining added strength as forecasters said it would hit the US Gulf Coast during night-time hours.
Louisiana’s governor urged his state’s residents to take Nate seriously even before New Orleans and much of his state’s fragile coast was placed under a hurricane warning, saying the storm “has the potential to do a lot of damage”.
“No-one should take this storm lightly. It has already claimed the lives of at least 20 people,” John Bel Edwards said. “We do want people to be very, very cautious and to not take this storm for granted.”
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said yesterday morning that the core of the Category 1 hurricane was located about 245 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi. A hurricane hunter plane found the storm had gained new muscle in recent hours, with top sustained winds rising to around 85 mph amid a threat of some additional strengthening.
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. A tropical storm warning extends 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.
States of emergency have been declared in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as Nate – which has already killed at least 20 people in Central America – became the latest in a succession of destructive storms this hurricane season.
In Louisiana, Edwards mobilised 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 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 storm indicated the greatest threats would be winds and storm surge. The US National Hurricane Center warned that Nate could raise sea levels by four to seven feet from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border.
A White House statement early yesterday said Louisiana’s emergency declaration had been approved, adding that President Donald Trump authorised the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to co-ordinate all relief efforts.