Gulf Coast braces for fast-approaching Hurricane Nate
NEW ORLEANS — Rainfall from fast-moving Hurricane Nate lashed southeast Louisiana on Saturday afternoon as the storm headed for an evening landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast and residents in vulnerable, low-lying areas fled.
“It’s coming,” Larry Bertron said as he and his wife Kimberlee prepared to leave their home in the Braithwaite community of vulnerable Plaquemines Parish. Hurricane veterans, they lost one home in south Louisiana to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and were preparing to leave the home they rebuilt after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
“This will be it,” said Bertron, who complained that local officials haven’t done enough to improve area levees. “If it floods again, this will be it. I can’t live on promises.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the storm’s eye is expected to make landfall in the area near the mouth of the Mississippi River around 7 p.m., likely as a Category 2 hurricane. He urged residents to make final preparations quickly and stressed that Nate will bring the possibility of storm surge reaching up to 11 feet in some coastal areas and strong winds.
“It’s going to hit and move through our area at a relatively fast rate, limiting the amount of time it’s going to drop rain,” Edwards said. “But this is a very dangerous storm nonetheless.”
Already, some low-lying areas of the state were seeing localized street flooding. Certain coastal areas of Louisiana outside of levee protections are under mandatory evacuation orders. Shelters were opened in parishes with evacuation orders.
New Orleans’ pumping system hasn’t had any problems, Edwards said. System weaknesses - including the failure of some pumps and power-generating turbines - were exposed after an Aug. 5 deluge caused homes and businesses to flood in some sections of the city.
Hurricane conditions were expected along the northern Gulf Coast. A state of emergency was declared for Mississippi’s six southernmost counties. Residents there and in coastal Alabama were warned to take shelter or get out of the storm’s way.
“This is the worst hurricane that has impacted Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina,” Mississippi Emergency Management Director Lee Smithson said at a Saturday briefing. “Everyone needs to understand that, that this is a significantly dangerous situation.”
On Alabama’s Dauphin Island, water had already begun washing over the road Saturday on the island’s low-lying west end, said Mayor Jeff Collier. The storm was projected to bring storm surges from seven to 11 feet near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Some of the biggest impacts could be at the top of funnel-shaped Mobile Bay.
The window for preparing “is quickly closing,” Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents of the Panhandle to prepare for Nate’s impact.
The governor said Saturday that residents in evacuation zones in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties should heed the warnings and seek safe shelter from the storm. He said shelters will be available to people who have nowhere else to go.
“Hurricane Nate is expected to bring life-threatening storm surges, strong winds and tornados that could reach across the Panhandle,” Scott said. The evacuations affect roughly 100,000 residents in the western Panhandle.
The Pensacola International Airport announced it will close at 6 p.m. Saturday and remain closed on Sunday.
However, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport remained open Saturday.
“The airport does not close,” spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said. “We are urging customers to check with their specific airlines to see whether their flights have been canceled because there have been some of those.”
Nate was located midday Saturday about 105 miles (170 kilometers) south of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was still a Category 1 storm but was expected to reach Category 2 strength before making landfall. Nate killed at least 21 people after strafing Central America earlier in the week.
Waterside sections of New Orleans, outside the city’s levee system, were under an evacuation order. About 2,000 people were affected. But not everyone was complying.
Gabriel Black of New Orleans’ Venetian Isles community sent his wife, a friend, and three dogs to a hotel in the city. Black stayed behind because an 81-year-old neighbor refused to leave.
“I know it sounds insane, but he has bad legs and he doesn’t have anybody who can get to him,” Black said.
Others nearby were staying as well. Nancy and Cleve Bell said their house is built so high off the ground that it stayed dry in the floods after Hurricane Katrina. Nancy Bell said they have a generator and plenty of supplies, and will be safe.
Forecaster said Nate could dump 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) of rain on the region — with isolated totals of up to 10 inches (25 centimeters).
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he spoke with President Trump on Saturday morning. “He assured me that LA would have all the assistance we need as we prepare for #Nate,” the governor posted on Twitter.
The National Hurricane Center said a hurricane warning was in effect from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. A hurricane warning was also in effect for metropolitan New Orleans and nearby Lake Pontchartrain. Tropical storm warnings extended 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.
— Associated Press writer Kim Chandler in Alabama and Kevin McGill in New Orleans, and AP photographer Gerald Herbert in Plaquemines Parish, contributed to this report.