Hurricane Nate makes landfall near mouth of Mississippi River
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY, MELINDA DESLATTE and JEFF AMY
NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Hurricane Nate brought flooding and power outages to the Gulf Coast as it sloshed ashore outside Biloxi early Sunday, the first hurricane to make landfall in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The storm hit the state with maximum sustained winds near 85 mph (140 kph) but weakened later to a tropical storm as it moved inland, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
As of 5 a.m. EDT, Nate was centered about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north-northeast of Biloxi and moving north-northeast near 23 mph (37 kph).
At one point, Nate’s eye move over Keesler Air Force Base, where the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane hunter planes are kept, the center said.
It was Nate’s second landfall. Saturday night, the storm came ashore along a sparsely populated area in southeast Louisiana.
Nate’s powerful winds pushed water onto roads and its winds knocked out power to homes and business. 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, Nate’s storm surge 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."
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.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said there were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths or injuries in the state. Roughly 1,100 people spent the night in shelters, according to Flynn, but he said he had not heard any reports of widespread damage to homes.
"Thankfully, right now we have no major damage reports," he said.
In Alabama, the storm’s rising water flooded homes and cars on the coast and inundated at least one major thoroughfare in downtown Mobile.
Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier 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 had 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.
Storm surge also flooded Water Street in downtown Mobile and a ground-level causeway across Mobile Bay. Alabama Department of Transportation traffic cameras show water still standing on both those routes before dawn Sunday.
Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall on the Mississippi coast on Aug. 29, 2005, leveling many cities and buckling bridges. Casino barges were pushed into homes.
Katrina was the last hurricane that made a landfall on the Mississippi coast, although both Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012 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 the mayor lifted it about an hour after it had begun when it appeared the storm would pass by and cause little problem for the city.
Still, the streets were not nearly as crowded as they typically are on a Saturday night and Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked people to shelter in place.
Some bars were closed in the French Quarter but music blasted from others.
Nate weakened slightly and was a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 85 mph (137 kph) when it made its first landfall in a sparsely populated area of Plaquemines (PLAK’-uh-minz) Parish.
Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency. The three states have been mostly spared during this hectic hurricane 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.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents to make final preparations quickly.
"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.
The Pensacola International Airport announced it was closing at 6 p.m. Saturday and remain closed Sunday. However, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was open Saturday.
Nate killed at least 21 people in Central America.
Associated Press writer Kim Chandler in Alabama and Kevin McGill in New Orleans, and AP photographer Gerald Herbert in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, contributed to this report.
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