Monday 20 August 2018

Nate weakens but rain and floods continue on US Gulf Coast

A woman wades through flooded Water Street in Mobile, Alabama (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
A woman wades through flooded Water Street in Mobile, Alabama (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
An abandoned boat takes on water on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Justin Vicory/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)
Enhanced infrared satellite image shows Hurricane Nate approaching the mouth of the Mississippi River on Saturday (NOAA via AP)

Fast-moving storm Nate brought flooding and power cuts to the US Gulf Coast on Sunday after it came ashore outside Biloxi, Mississippi, the first hurricane to make landfall in that state since Katrina devastated the region 12 years ago.

The storm hit Mississippi as a Category one hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 85 mph (140 kph) but weakened later to a tropical storm as it moved inland, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.

More than 100,000 residents in Mississippi and Alabama were without power after the arrival of Nate, but no deaths or injuries were reported.

Authorities were beginning to assess the storm's impact, but most areas in Nate's path seem to have avoided major damage - including New Orleans.

City of Biloxi employees were working to clear debris on Highway 90, the main beachfront road, before dawn.

Nate washed up sand and logs and a large rubbish bin into the four-lane highway. Despite the debris, there was little to no damage to structures that were visible. A handful of businesses were reopening before dawn, and the storm surge that washed across the road had receded by 6am.

Storm surge flooded the parking structure of the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, but a city official said there were no immediate reports of flooding on the floors of any casinos.

"We are thankful because this looked like it was going to be a freight train barrelling through the city," said Vincent Creel, a city spokesman.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said there were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths or injuries in the state. Roughly 1,100 people spent the night in shelters.

"Thankfully, right now we have no major damage reports," he said.

Hancock County Emergency Management Agency director Brian Adam said Nate's storm surge flooded roads in low-lying areas, but he had not heard any reports of flooded homes.

"We turned out fairly good," he said as he prepared to survey neighbourhoods for possible damage. "Until we get out and actually get into some of the areas, we really won't know."

In Louisiana, fears that Nate would overwhelm the fragile pumping system of the city of New Orleans proved unfounded. The storm passed to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. Mayor Mitch Landrieu lifted a curfew on the city known for all-night partying on Saturday night.

Nate has been steadily weakening since making first landfall in a sparsely populated area of Plaquemines.

Although the National Hurricane Centre said Nate was "rapidly weakening," the misery associated with heavy rain was to persist over a wide area.

Through Monday, Nate was expected to bring three to six inches of rain to the Deep South, eastern Tennessee Valley and southern Appalachians. The Ohio Valley and central Appalachians could also get heavy rain, the hurricane centre said.

Nate's powerful winds have knocked out power to more than 100,000 customers in Mississippi and Alabama, but did not have the intensity other storms - Harvey, Irma and Jose - had during this busy hurricane season.

Nate was the first hurricane-strength storm to make landfall in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, reducing thousands of beachfront homes and businesses to slabs.

In Alabama, the storm's rising water flooded homes and cars on the coast and inundated at least one major thoroughfare in central Mobile.

Dauphin Island mayor Jeff Collier said he woke up at about 3am Sunday to discover knee-deep water in his garden. Although some homes and cars on the island had flooded, Mr Collier said he had not heard of any reports of residents needing to be rescued.

"We didn't think it would be quite that bad," he said. "It kind of snuck up on us in the wee hours of the morning."


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