(CNN) The outer bands of Hurricane Nate reached the Louisiana coast early Saturday afternoon, with the fast-moving system expected to make landfall as a Category 2 storm late in the evening southeast of New Orleans, the National Hurricane Center and CNN meteorologists said.
Wind and rain from Nate pounded Grand Isle and Port Sulphur, Louisiana, as the storm, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, sprinted toward land at 25 mph. It was still a Category 1 storm at 2 p.m. ET, when the hurricane center issued its most recent advisory.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards encouraged residents to prepare for Nate as if it were a much stronger storm.
“Everyone who has been told to evacuate or would like to do so (should) do it now,” he said around noon, adding that within three hours, everyone should stay put indoors.
The storm could make landfall Saturday night around Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, near where Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, hit in 2005. The storm had been expected to slam the coast hours later, but predictions were altered as it sped up.
Hurricane warnings were in effect in New Orleans, including Lake Pontchartrain, and from Grand Isle, Louisiana, east to the Alabama-Florida border.
A storm surge warning was in place from Morgan City, Louisiana to the Okaloosa-Walton county line in Florida, and along the northern and western shores of Lake Pontchartrain. And a tropical storm warning had been extended east to Indian Pass, on the Florida Panhandle.
Evacuation orders were in place outside levees in New Orleans and Plaquemines Parish, and along the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts. President Trump on Friday declared an emergency in Louisiana ahead of Nate and ordered federal assistance.
The storm’s reach will be wide, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said, with strong winds affecting population centers from New Orleans to Panama City, Florida. Biloxi, Mississippi, could experience gusts of 100 mph.
Nate was expected to knock down power lines and trees from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to the Florida Panhandle and possibly leave at least 1 million people without electricity.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in these areas, as tropical storm conditions will first arrive in the warning area this afternoon,” the hurricane center warned Saturday morning.
Tornadoes could form beginning late Saturday afternoon over parts of the central Gulf Coast, the hurricane center said.
Nate could drop 3 to 6 inches of rain, with 10 inches possible in some areas, from the central Gulf Coast north across the Deep South, the eastern Tennessee Valley and the southern Appalachians through Monday, the hurricane center said. Flash flooding is a danger.
“Once it hits land, it looks like it’s going to be very quick to move out of the area and then weaken,” CNN meteorologist Jennifer Varian said.
Nate would be the third hurricane to hit the US mainland in six weeks, after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of properties.
The storm had already carved a path of devastation in Central America. At least 25 people were killed Thursday in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. Hundreds were rescued from floodwaters and mudslides. Many lost power and running water.
New Orleans could experience 6 to 9 feet of storm surge, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said midday Saturday, citing National Weather Service predictions. Storm surge is a gradual rise in the water level caused by a major storm’s wind as it nears shore…By: Joe Sterling, Nicole Chavez and Michelle Krupa