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New Orleans evacuated some residents from areas outside its levee system as Tropical Storm Nate swirled towards the US Gulf Coast overnight after killing at least 25 people in Central America.
Nate is set to become a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest on a fivecategory scale used by meteorologists, by the time it hits the US central Gulf Coast today.
‘‘Nate is at our doorstep or will be soon,’’ New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
The greatest threat from this particular storm was not rain but strong winds and storm surge, Landrieu said. The winds could cause significant power outages, and storm surges were projected to be 1.8 to 2.7 metres high, he added.
‘‘We have been through this many, many times. There is no need to panic,’’ Landrieu told a news conference.
The storm was expected to brush by Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, home to beach resorts such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen, before heading north into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami.
Nate had maximum sustained winds of 97kmh, the NHC said.
In the US, a state of emergency has been declared for 29 Florida counties and states near Nate’s path – Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi – as well as the city of New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The NHC has issued a hurricane watch from Grand Isle, Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border.
Nearly three-quarters of US Gulf of Mexico oil production was offline ahead of the storm, and more oil companies were halting operations yesterday. The US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said oil companies had evacuated staff from 66 platforms and five drilling rigs,
Nate was moving northnorthwest at 34kmh, a fast pace which if maintained could mean the storm does less damage when it hits land.
The storm doused Central America with heavy rains on Friday, killing at least 12 people in Nicaragua, nine in Costa Rica, two in Honduras and two in El Salvador, local authorities said.
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 that the rains were likely to 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
New Orleans residents are questioning whether the city’s network of 120 pumps will be powerful enough to drain any floodwaters from Nate. Officials, seeking to calm nerves in the city of about the house,’’ said 340,000, vowed yesterday that the pumps should be adequate, despite recent failures that allowed flooding in even mild rains.
‘‘I don’t have full confidence in those pumps,’’ said Humberto Suazo, chief financial officer of Link Restaurant Group in uptown New Orleans. ‘‘We have had so many mixed messages.’’
Memories of the deadly flooding from Hurricane Katrina, which inundated much of New Orleans, are still fresh on the minds of many residents.
Landrieu said he had ordered the city’s Sewerage and Water Board (SWB) to boost staffing at pumping stations during the storm, and ‘‘contractors are beginning work 24/7 to fix pumps’’.
Questions about the effectiveness of the city’s drainage systems swirled after an August 5 storm dumped up to 15 centimetres of rain, causing street flooding and underpasses to fill.
The SWB said it had improved or repaired pumps since that storm and improved the ability to power the pumps. Renee Lapeyrolerie, its interim communications director, said 26 backup power generators had been added.
‘‘Since the August 5 event we have been working 24/7 to be better prepared for rainstorms,’’ Lapeyrolerie said. ‘‘We’re in a much better position now.’’
Residents are especially wary after Hurricane Harvey flooded huge areas of Houston in late August with more than 1.27m of rain.
‘‘If we get 50 inches (1.27m), there would be no way to pump that much water out of here,’’ said Steve Watson, owner of Kingpin bar and Midway Pizza in uptown New Orleans. ‘‘Even 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38cm) of rain, some low-lying areas are going to be affected.’’
Emergency services workers in Costa Rica look at a section of the country’s main north-south highway destroyed by Tropical Storm Nate in Casa Mata.
New Orleans residents fill sandbags in preparation for Nate’s arrival. A state of emergency has been declared for the city, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
People cross a river flooded by heavy rains brought by Nate in Nandaime, Nicaragua.