New Orleans and much of the US Gulf Coast are gearing up for possible flooding and damaging winds ahead of Hurricane Nate's projected landfall this weekend.
As the eye of Nate entered the southern Gulf of Mexico late Friday, the storm strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane. The storm is 420 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, in the southern Gulf of Mexico. It's packing 80 miles per hour winds and moving northwest at 22 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters say Nate could continue to intensify before it makes landfall by late Saturday night into Sunday just east of New Orleans.
Hurricane warnings have been issued along the northern Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain and Grand Island, Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama-Florida border.
Nate could be the third hurricane to hit the US mainland in six weeks. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma torn through some coastal states killing dozens and destroying thousands of properties.
The storm has already left a path of devastation in Central America. At least 24 people were killed in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras on Thursday. Hundreds were rescued from floodwaters and mudslides. Many lost power and running water.
New Orleans braces for impact
First responders, sewer workers and residents are preparing for flooding in New Orleans, which was devastated 12 years ago by Hurricane Katrina. The storm is expected to make landfall in the close vicinity of New Orleans by Sunday.
Nate could drop 3 to 6 inches of rain, with 10 inches possible in some areas, from the central Gulf Coast north through Tennessee and the southern Appalachians through the weekend, possibly spawning flash floods, the hurricane center said.
On Friday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered a mandatory evacuation of the Venetian Isles, Lake Catherine and Irish Bayou areas of the city after having already declared a state of emergency Thursday.
In preparation for overnight flooding, Landrieu also announced a mandatory curfew will take effect Saturday at 6 p.m. and end Sunday morning.
He urged people who live "outside the city's levee protection system or in low-lying area" to seek higher ground as much of the city lies below sea level.
Residents have been wary since the city's unique drainage system experienced critical deficiencies during heavy summer rainstorms, leading to the flooding of several hundred properties.
Some of the city's drainage pumps and some turbines that help power the city's oldest pump stations were offline earlier this week, city records showed.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for all of Louisiana and mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops ahead of the storm.
"We are taking the potential impacts of Tropical Storm Nate seriously and mobilizing all of the state's emergency preparedness and response mechanisms for a full readiness should this storm severely impact our state," Edwards said.
Nate's projected landfall will have an impact on several flights along the Gulf Cost.
In Florida, the Pensacola International Airport will cease operations Saturday night and will remain closed throughout Sunday due to the storm, airport officials said.
In Alabama, where Gov. Kay Ivey signed a statewide emergency declaration Friday, the Mobile Regional Airport will also be closing Saturday afternoon and reopening Sunday at noon, an airport official said.
Mobile officials were checking storm drains for debris, taking measures to avert power outages and deploying critical equipment. Coastal Alabama officials said they are closing beaches and ordered voluntary evacuations in parts of the coast.
Meanwhile in Mississippi, the Air Force Reserve's 403rd Wing relocated their aircraft to Texas and Arkansas. The Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi was not evacuated, officials said.
"We are moving aircraft as a precautionary measure ahead of Tropical Storm Nate, and so we can continue the mission," said Col. Jennie R. Johnson in a statement.