Hurricane Nate intensified and moved rapidly toward the central Gulf Coast on Saturday as residents in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida braced for it to make landfall under state-of-emergency orders.
Hurricane Nate has already killed 25 people in Central America.
The hurricane was moving north-northwest at 22 miles per hour as of 8 a.m. EST according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
“On the forecast track, the center of Nate will move across the central and northern Gulf of Mexico today,” the NHC said, “and will make landfall along the central U.S. Gulf Coast tonight.”
The maximum sustained wind speeds increased to 85 miles per hour.
“Some additional strengthening is possible before Nate makes landfall along the northern Gulf Coast,” the NHC said.
U.S. oil and gas companies evacuated platforms all across the Gulf of Mexico, the Weather Channel reported.
Storm surges of up to 9 feet were forecast for swaths of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.
The mayor of New Orleans ordered mandatory evacuations for residents living outside the levee protection area in the Venetian Isles, Lake Catherine, and the Irish Bayou areas. Mayor Mitch Landrieu also ordered a mandatory curfew starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday and expiring at 6 a.m. Sunday.
“We are very well prepared,” Landrieu said. “We are ready for whatever Nate brings our way.”
Landrieu urged residents to stock up on supplies for three days and make an emergency plan.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded evacuation orders on Friday and issued a mandatory evacuation for Latiffe.
“We do anticipate a direct hit in Louisiana,” Bel Edwards said. “The bottom line for people is: You need to be where you want to be and in the posture, you want to be by dark on Saturday.”
A total of 1,300 National Guard troops were mobilized, with 15 of those headed to New Orleans to monitor the pumping system. A flood in August exposed issues in the pumping system in the city, but as of Friday, 92 percent of the pumps were operational, according to Landrieu.
“Since early August, we have made substantial progress,” Landrieu said on Thursday.
Evacuations were also ordered for St. Bernard, parts of Lafourche and St. John parishes, and Grand Isle, The Associated Press and WWL-TV reported.
A state of emergency was declared for 29 Florida counties and states—Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi—as well as the New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The NHC issued a hurricane watch from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border.
“By Saturday noon you should be in your safe place,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told a news conference. “This is a fast-moving storm and we must begin preparing now.”
Central America Deaths
The storm doused Central America with heavy rains on Thursday, killing at least 12 people in Nicaragua, nine in Costa Rica, two in Honduras and two in El Salvador.
Thousands were forced to evacuate their homes and Costa Rica’s government declared a state of emergency.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis urged residents to remain vigilant, noting rains would likely resume.
In Honduras, residents wondered whether they would have to flee. Norma Chavez and her two children anxiously watched a river rise outside their home in Tegucigalpa, the capital.
“We are worried that it will grow more and carry away the house,” said Chavez, 45.
Through Monday, Nate is expected to produce 2 to 4 inches more rain in eastern Yucatán and western Cuba and 3 inches to 6 inches in the U.S. central Gulf Coast.
About 71 percent of the U.S.’s Gulf of Mexico oil production and 53 percent of the natural gas output is offline ahead of Nate’s arrival, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said on Friday.
Oil companies have evacuated staff from 66 platforms and five drilling rigs, it said. Oil production equaling 1.24 million barrels of crude per day is offline, according to BSEE.
Reuters contributed to this report.