NEW ORLEANS: Residents in three states along the US Gulf Coast scrambled to complete preparations Saturday ahead of Hurricane Nate as officials warned conditions would turn treacherous after sunset.
Nate was forecast to arrive late Saturday as a Category Two hurricane, packing winds topping 90 miles per hour as it churned in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm killed at least 28 people in Central America.
Storm surges along the US Gulf Coast are forecast as high as eight feet (2.5 meters) above ground level, prompting officials to order mandatory evacuations in some low-lying areas.
In Louisiana’s flood-prone city of New Orleans, residents were out early Saturday to fill sandbags, as others in nearby communities packed cars to heed evacuation orders.
“This is going to be a major wind event, which can provide electrical outages… and this is a potential wind surge event, if you live outside the levee protection areas,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Friday night while announcing a Saturday curfew of 7 pm (2300 GMT).
The levee system has been considerably fortified since Katrina, but authorities warn that it has reduced, but not completely eliminated, flooding risks.
The mayor urged residents in three areas under mandatory evacuation orders to leave by noon because nearby floodgates will be closing.
‘To keep everyone safe’
Three states in Hurricane Nate’s northerly path — Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi — were expected to bear the brunt of the storm before it weakens as it moves inland.
Multiple shelters were opened for evacuees, and officials urged residents to finish preparations before evening, including stocking up on several days’ supply of food and water.
“We are prepared to keep everyone safe during this storm, and we will be enforcing the curfew,” New Orleans police chief Michael Harrison said.
Shoppers emptied area stores of essentials — while dwindling shelves of ice cream suggested that some residents in a part of the country used to hurricanes were taking Nate in stride.
With widespread electrical outages expected, New Orleans-area power provider Entergy prepositioned repair crews to go to work once the hurricane passes.
Lengthy outages likely
“Please be prepared for outages that can last up to seven days,” an Entergy spokeswoman said.
Nate was forecast to arrive along the Gulf coast with “potentially life-threatening” storm surges in some areas, said Mark DeMaria of the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Unlike Harvey, which dumped record amounts of rain as it hovered over Texas for a week, Nate is expected to quickly pass along a northerly path — drenching a vast swath of the US as it moves inland and weakens.
Nate is the ninth storm of a record-breaking US hurricane season, the National Weather Service said. The fourth-largest US city Houston was humbled by unprecedented flooding during Hurricane Harvey, and much of Florida evacuated for Hurricane Irma.
Then the US territory of Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, with huge parts of its infrastructure destroyed.