(NEW YORK) – A tropical storm that killed at least 22 people in Central America is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane over the weekend before roaring ashore in New Orleans.
Hurricane watches and warnings were already in effect for coastal areas of four southeastern U.S. states. The region includes metropolitan New Orleans, where a hurricane watch has been issued, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Thursday as his state braces for a direct hit. He mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 going to New Orleans to monitor the troubled pump and drainage system there.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency for the city ahead of the storm’s approach. Landrieu warned that the areas outside of the levee protection system could see a 3 to 6 foot storm surge.
Landrieu said officials are working “around the clock” to repair all power and pumps for the city’s drainage system, which is grappling with flooding from recent rains. As of Thursday afternoon, 108 of the city’s 120 pumps were working, the mayor said.
St. Bernard Parish, located southeast of New Orleans, also declared a state of emergency and issued a mandatory evacuation for residents outside of the levee system.
So far, the Atlantic has seen five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) during the 2017 season, two short of the record set in 2005, when seven major hurricanes hit.
The new weather system, dubbed Nate, strengthened into a tropical storm in the western Caribbean Sea near Nicaragua on Thursday morning. It pounded Central America with rain heavy, causing deadly flash floods and mudslides. Some areas could see up to 15 inches of rain through the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical Storm Nate will traverse the northwestern Caribbean Sea Friday and reach the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula early Friday evening. The storm’s center was churning about 175 miles south-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and racing toward the north-northwest at 21 mph as of 11 a.m. ET. Maximum sustained winds were 50 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“Strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Nate is expected to become a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf of Mexico,” the National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.
Nate is forecast to approach southeastern Louisiana early Sunday, making landfall as a Category 1 hurricane somewhere between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.
In preparation for the storm, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency that went into effect at 7 a.m. ET Friday. Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 29 countries.
Oil and gas companies began evacuating six production platforms on Thursday, according to the Bureau of Safety Environmental Enforcement. While one movable rig was taken out of the storm’s path, no drilling rigs have been evacuated.
Nate could drop 3 to 6 inches of rain in states along the central U.S. Gulf Coast, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Tropical storm conditions and hurricane conditions are possible within the designated watch areas Saturday night.
Meanwhile, a storm surge is expected to raise water levels by as much as 4 to 7 feet from Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border, according to the National Hurricane Center.
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