The mayor of New Orleans late Thursday declared a state of emergency for the city ahead of Tropical Storm Nate, which has already been blamed for 22 deaths in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The city’s mayor Mitch Landrieu said residents who live outside the city’s levee system or in low-lying areas should move to higher ground.
“There is no need to panic,” he tweeted. “Be ready and prepare. Get a plan. Prepare to protect your personal property.”
Evacuations were ordered Thursday for parts of Louisiana, including St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans.
In New Orleans, officials were outlining how they intend to fortify that city’s pump and drainage system after flash floods this summer exposed weaknesses in the system.
In Florida, the western Panhandle was facing a potential threat as it just outside the eastern edge of Nate’s 3-day forecast cone but inside the edge of the 5-day cone.
A direct impact to South Florida is not expected but the area will likely see some more rain this weekend as Nate churns up through the Gulf.
“Nate will pass well to the west of South Florida, so that means a continued deep flow of moisture from the south and a good chance of showers and thunderstorms during the weekend,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesperson for the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
The storm’s maximum sustained wind speeds stayed at 40 mph for much of the day Thursday but those winds were expected to intensify when Nate emerges over the Caribbean Sea Thursday night.
Nate is the busy 2017 Atlantic hurricane season’s latest named storm, having originated from Tropical Depression 16 — which developed Wednesday in the southwestern Caribbean Sea.
In the past 24 hours, Nate’s projected path has changed, with the track shifting west and farther away from Florida.
Initially, the official forecast track from the National Hurricane Center on Wednesday had the storm’s core headed straight for Florida’s northern Gulf Coast near Panama City Beach.
That changed overnight. The storm’s center as of Thursday was headed toward the general vicinity of the mouth of the Mississippi River at the southeastern tip of Louisiana.
U.S. Gulf Coast population centers within the cone as of Thursday included Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana; Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula in Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama.
But forecasters say that the cone doesn’t tell the whole story.
“The center of the storm can be anywhere inside the track forecast uncertainty cone,” Feltgen said. “And remember, this cone has nothing to do with the impacts, which will be over a much wider area.”
In Nicaragua, Nate’s arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen, the Associated Press reported. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.
Nicaragua’s vice president and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 15 people had died in that country due to the storm. She didn’t give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.
The government closed schools nationwide.
Costa Rica’s President Luis Guillermo Solis blamed two deaths in that country on the storm. Flooding drove 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.
As of the 5 p.m. Thursday update from the National Hurricane Center, Nate’s core was expected to travel over eastern Honduras Thursday evening after passing over eastern Nicaragua for much of the day Thursday. Nate was expected to travel over the Caribbean Sea Thursday night and Friday.
“Maximum sustained winds are near 40 mph with higher gusts,” the hurricane center said in its 8 p.m. advisory. “Strengthening is likely once the center moves over the northwestern Caribbean Sea tonight and Friday, and Nate could be near hurricane strength as the center approaches the Yucatan Peninsula.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report