Nate weakens to tropical storm over Mississippi

Rapidly intensifying storms typically only occur about twice each hurricane season, but 2017 saw four of these monsters already. (USA TODAY)

Tropical Storm Nate lost its hurricane status Sunday after making a second landfall on the Gulf Coast, a rapidly weakening storm still viable enough to pound parts of the Southeast with heavy rains and storm surge.

Nate crashed into the Gulf Coast as a Category 1 hurricane Saturday near the mouth of the Mississippi River before making landfall again early Sunday near Biloxi, Miss. Nate thus became the first hurricane to make landfall in the state since Katrina devastated much of the state's Gulf Coast in 2005.

As of 7 a.m. CT, its maximum sustained winds were 45 mph — the low end of the tropical storm scale — the National Hurricane Center reported.

The center predicted Nate would turn toward the north-northeast then northeast. What remains of the hurricane's eye was forecast to pass over portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee through Sunday night, dumping as much as 10 inches of rain.

Still, the storm's weakening came as good news to hurricane-weary residents in four Gulf Coast states, which had declared emergency measures, including mandatory evacuations, curfews, beach closures and traffic blockades at flood-prone underpasses.

In Pascagoula, 20 miles east of Biloxi, storm surge flooded downtown streets. Lauren Evans, 19, was waiting out the storm at the Forrest County Community Shelter. She said she fled her home Saturday when the winds began to pick up.

"It was getting bad. We didn't want to risk anything," she said. "They said (Katrina) wasn't going to be that bad. If (evacuating) is going to keep us safe, I don't mind."

The Interior Department said crews were plucked off five drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and other rigs were moved out of the storm’s path.

States of emergency were declared in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as Nate — which has already killed at least 21 people in Central America — became the latest in a succession of destructive storms this hurricane season.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents to take the warnings seriously, saying the storm “has the potential to do a lot of damage.”

“We do want people to be very, very cautious and to not take this storm for granted,” Edwards said.

The state National Guard has mobilized 1,300 troops and positioned high-water vehicles, boats and even school buses from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to help with rescues.

President Trump approved an emergency declaration for a large area of the state and ordered federal assistance for Louisiana as Nate approached the central Gulf of Mexico.

In some parts of the state, early voting for next week's statewide elections wrapped up early ahead of the storm. 

In New Orleans, flood-prone underpasses will be blocked to traffic in anticipation of possible heavy rain. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said 109 of the 120 pumps critical for draining the low-lying city are functioning — a 92% capacity.

“We are ready for whatever Nate brings our way,” Landrieu said. Two flash floods this summer led to revelations about personnel and equipment problems at the agency that runs that system.

Landrieu lifted the city's curfew after the National Hurricane Center canceled its hurricane warning for the city though he advised wanna-be revelers to continue to shelter in place as the storm passed.

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in six southernmost counties. State officials warned that Nate’s main danger was the possibility of up to 10 feet of storm surge in low-lying coastal areas, as well as from winds that could damage mobile homes.

"This is the most dangerous hurricane to hit Mississippi since Katrina, make no mistake," Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Lee Smithson said.

He warned people to be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours. A 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew was ordered for Jackson County, where the brunt of Nate is expected.

Casinos and resorts along the coast shut down and special events, like a Beach Boys concert in Biloxi, were canceled.

In Alabama, 60,000 Alabama Power Co. customers had no electricity early Sunday, most in the Mobile area. Flooding was reported in some downtown streets. The ity of Gulf Shores reported some street flooding Sunday but lifted its evacuation order.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said the roughly 100,000 residents in evacuation zones should heed warnings, stick to their emergency plan and stay vigilant for updates from local officials.

He said the hurricane could bring not just storm surges and strong winds to the Panhandle, but also tornadoes.

Contributing: Justin Vicory and Sam R. Hall, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger; Joseph Baucum, Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal; Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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