After coming ashore in Louisiana and Mississippi, storm weakening as it moves inland
Hurricane Nate brought flooding and power outages as it sloshed ashore outside Biloxi, Miss., early Sunday, the first hurricane to make landfall in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The storm hit the state early Sunday with maximum sustained winds near 140 km/h, but weakened later to a tropical storm as it moved inland, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
It was Nate's second landfall in the U.S. The first was on Saturday night, when the storm came ashore along a sparsely populated area in southeast Louisiana.
As of 5 a.m. ET, Nate was centred about 130 kilometres north-northeast of Biloxi and moving north-northeast near 37 km/h.
At one point, Nate's eye moved over Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, where the National Hurricane Center's hurricane hunter planes are kept, the centre said.
Nate's powerful winds pushed water onto roads and its winds knocked out power to homes and business. Its rising water flooded homes and cars on Alabama's coast and inundated at least one major thoroughfare in downtown Mobile, Ala.
Jeff Collier, mayor of Dauphin Island in Alabama, said he woke up around 3 a.m. Sunday to discover knee-deep water in his yard. Although some homes and cars on the island have flooded, Collier said he hadn't heard of any reports of residents needing to be rescued from the floodwaters. Collier also said the water levels appeared to be falling as dawn approached.
Various Alabama utilities reported more than 59,000 customers were without electricity.
But Nate didn't have the intensity other storms — Harvey, Irma and Jose — had during this busy hurricane season, and people didn't seem as threatened by it. No deaths or injuries were immediately reported.
As the midnight high tide approached in Biloxi, a storm surge from Nate pushed over the beachfront highway of U.S. 90 onto the peninsula that makes up the city's eastern edge. It flooded the parking structure of the Golden Nugget casino, which is closest to the peninsula's tip. Water kept going several blocks deep into the area.
"It kind of surprised us," Mike Kovacevich, who lives two blocks north of U.S. 90, told Biloxi officials on their Facebook page. "We didn't expect to be this deep. It come in pretty good — a lot of water."
An abandoned boat takes on water near Biloxi, Miss., on Saturday as the outer bands of Hurricane Nate begin to batter the shore. (Justin Vicory/The Clarion-Ledger/Associated Press)
Pascagoula also reported that storm surge flooded downtown streets in that coastal city.
Thousands were without power in southern Mississippi. Outages were mostly concentrated on the eastern half of the state's narrow coastal strip, in Harrison, Jackson and George counties.
Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall on the Mississippi coast on Aug. 29, 2005, levelling many cities and buckling bridges. Casino barges were pushed into homes.
John Adams is a Massachusetts native who now lives on Belle Fontaine Beach, a narrow strip of land between the Mississippi Sound and a coastal marsh. Every house on the spit was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
"This is my first hurricane," Adams said hours before the storm made landfall. "So far, it's kind of a fizzle."
Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012 also affected parts of the coast.
Nate passed to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. Its quick speed lessened the likelihood of prolonged rain that would tax the city's weakened drainage pump system. The city famous for all-night partying was placed under a curfew effective at 7 p.m., but Mayor Mitch Landrieu lifted it about an hour after it had begun when it appeared the storm would pass by and cause few problems.
Still, the streets were not nearly as crowded as they typically are on a Saturday night and Landrieu asked people to shelter in place.
Some bars were closed in the French Quarter but music blasted from others.
"I don't think it's going to be that bad, as far as a hurricane," said Michael Dennis of Atlanta.
Cities along the Mississippi coast such as Gulfport and Biloxi were on high alert. Some beachfront hotels and casinos were evacuated, and rain began falling on the region Saturday. Forecasters called for seven to 15 centimetres, with as much as 25 centimetres in some isolated places.
Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency. The three states have been mostly spared this season.
"This is the worst hurricane that has impacted Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina," Mississippi Emergency Management Director Lee Smithson said Saturday. "Everyone needs to understand that, that this is a significantly dangerous situation."
Officials rescued five people from two sailboats in choppy waters before the storm. One 41-foot sailboat lost its engine in Lake Pontchartrain and two sailors were saved. Another boat hit rocks in the Mississippi Sound and three people had to be plucked from the water.
"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."
Some people worried about New Orleans' pumping system, which had problems during a heavy thunderstorm on Aug. 5. The deluge exposed system weaknesses — including the failure of some pumps and power-generating turbines — and caused homes and businesses to flood. Repairs have been made but the system remained below maximum pumping capacity.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents of the Panhandle to prepare for Nate's impact.
"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.
A storm surge warning remained in effect from Louisiana to Florida, the National Hurricane Center said in an update Sunday morning, and flooding was expected along the Mississippi coast.
The Pensacola International Airport announced it was closing at 6 p.m. Saturday and would remain closed Sunday. However, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was open Saturday.