News World New Orleans gets a lucky break as Hurricane Nate swerves at the last moment

New Orleans gets a lucky break as Hurricane Nate swerves at the last moment

A costa Rican resident picks his way through the destruction of Hurricane Nate, now directing its fury at the US Gulf Coast. EPA/Jeffrey Arguedas
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Hurricane Nate came ashore on a sparsely populated area at the mouth of the Mississippi River and closed in on Mississippi, pelting the central Gulf Coast region with strong winds and heavy rains.

Nate was forecast to make its second landfall near Biloxi, Mississippi, and threatened to inundate homes and businesses.

The centre of the storm passed to the east of New Orleans on Saturday night, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. And 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 7pm, but the mayor lifted it when it appeared the storm would cause few problems for the city. Still, the streets were not nearly as crowded as they typically are on a Saturday night.

Along the Mississippi coast, cities such as Gulfport and Biloxi were on high alert. Some beachfront hotels and casinos were evacuated as rain began falling on the region Saturday.

Forecasters called for 7 to 15cm, with as much as 25cm in some isolated places.

Nate weakened slightly and was a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 137km/h when it made landfall in a sparsely populated area of Plaquemines Parish.

Forecasters had said it was possible it could strengthen to a Category 2, but that seemed less likely as the night wore on.

Storm surge threatened low-lying communities in southeast Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama fishing village of Bayou la Batre.

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 on Saturday.

“Everyone needs to understand that, that this is a significantly dangerous situation.”