The outer bands of Hurricane Nate lashed parts of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi with heavy rain Saturday afternoon as Gulf Coast residents prepared for an evening landfall and those in low-lying areas fled for higher ground.
As of 5 p.m. ET, Nate was located about 50 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 140 miles south of Biloxi, Miss. Nate was a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 90 mph. Forecasters said it’s possible that it could strengthen to a Category 2 with winds of at least 96 mph before it makes landfall.
Forecasters also said Nate could dump 3 to 6 inches of rain on the region — with isolated totals of up to 10 inches.
Mississippi’s six southern-most counties declared a state of emergency, with the state’s emergency management director calling Nate “the worst hurricane that has impacted Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina.”
“Everyone needs to understand that,” Lee Smithson told reporters. “this is a significantly dangerous situation.”
Nate was expected to pass to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. However, the storm could pose a major test for the city’s fragile pumping and drainage system. Key weaknesses – including the failure of some pumps and power-generating turbines – were exposed after an Aug. 5 deluge flooded homes and businesses in some sections of the city. City officials imposed a 7 p.m. curfew for Saturday.
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 tornadoes 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.”
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.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.