Hurricane Zeta strengthens and speeds up ahead of Gulf Coast landfall


Heavy wind, rain and surge that could reach 5 to 8 feet above normal tide were forecast to move in by midday Wednesday ahead of an afternoon landfall in southeastern Louisiana as at least a strong Category 1 storm with winds of 90 mph or stronger, CNN meteorologists said.

Officials in Jefferson and Terrebonne parishes have issued mandatory evacuation orders for coastal areas and places outside major levees. In New Orleans, voluntary evacuations have been called for similar areas.

“I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky with this one,” said the city’s emergency preparedness director, Collin Arnold, noting New Orleans this year has skirted the impact of the six named storms.

“Storm fatigue” following those storms, coupled with Zeta’s quick pace, could impact how residents weather this late-season hurricane, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

“They have been on the outskirts of several storms, but not had a direct hit yet this year,” he said. “On top of that, this storm is hauling, so there hasn’t been a ton of time to prepare.

“Recent storms had a lot of buildup, spending days over the Gulf,” Miller said. “Because of this, I expect this storm will likely catch many by surprise.”

Zeta’s speed — 18 mph as of 11 a.m. ET — will likely protect the area from widespread catastrophic flooding, but it also means damaging winds will spread well inland into Mississippi and Alabama, with heavy rains reaching Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday, forecasters said.

Now a Category 1 storm with 90 mph sustained winds, Zeta could strengthen to Category 2 and accelerate to over 20 mph before moving ashore near Grand Isle or in Plaquemines Parish, Miller said. It was about 220 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River at 11 a.m., the National Hurricane Center reported.

A hurricane warning is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including metro New Orleans. Storm surge warnings are in effect from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre, Florida, plus Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay.

Preparing for yet another disaster

Benjamin Elkins, left, and Jack Beasley install a tarp Tuesday on Eklin's home in Pensacola, Florida.

If Zeta strikes Louisiana, it would be the fifth named storm to do so this season, setting a record for the state.

Louisiana is still recovering from the damage of those storms. About 3,500 evacuees are still displaced weeks after Hurricanes Laura and Delta caused major destruction, according to Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Most of the evacuees have been displaced since August from Laura and have been spread among six hotels in New Orleans, she said.

Billy Ewing, 71, has been living out of hotels in New Orleans since Laura damaged his Lake Charles apartment. Ewing is wheelchair-bound and said the trauma of being displaced has changed him.

“It’s one (storm) after the other. We’re just a target. I told my friend they’re zeroing in on us. They’re looking for us,” he said. “And we can’t control it. What’s the matter right now is we can’t control anything. I’m not in control of what my status is. I’m not in control of where I live.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city stands “ready and prepared and wanting to, again, encourage our people to not have fatigue as relates to being prepared.”

Tropical Storm Zeta makes its way toward the US coast after slamming into Mexico as a hurricane

Edwards sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Tuesday requesting a pre-landfall disaster declaration.

“No one should be complacent because it’s late October, and it certainly feels like hurricane season should be behind us,” he said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency Tuesday, saying the storm isn’t expected to be as bad for the state as ones earlier in the year but that residents still need to be prepared for outages and damage.

“I encourage everyone to remain weather aware and tuned in to their trusted news source as this storm could shift direction or change intensity,” Ivey said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has directed state officials to deploy an Urban Search and Rescue Team to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he said Wednesday in a news release.

“The resources … will help our neighbors in Louisiana respond to Hurricane Zeta and keep Louisianans safe,” Abbott said.

The wreckage in Mexico

Winds from Hurricane Zeta blow palm trees Tuesday in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Before turning its path toward the US coast, Zeta struck the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico on Monday night as a Category 1 hurricane.

Teams waded through toppled trees Tuesday after the storm made landfall north of Tulum shortly after midnight.

The region is still recovering from Hurricane Delta, which hit just three weeks earlier roughly 60 miles away. And days before Delta, the region was pummeled by Tropical Storm Gamma — less than 15 miles from where Zeta made landfall.

CNN’s Tina Burnside, Pedram Javaheri and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.



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