NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans and states from Louisiana to Florida were on alert Friday as forecasters predicted tropical storm Nate would pound the Gulf Coast this weekend as a hurricane.
The center of the storm was expected to pass late Saturday or early Sunday about 50 miles east of New Orleans, which was devastated 12 years ago by Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Hurricane Center.
It would be the third hurricane, after Harvey and Irma, to hit the U.S. mainland in six weeks.
Nate already has killed at least 21 people in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras, where it caused widespread flash flooding and mudslides, officials said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency Thursday and advised residents to stay put over the weekend.
“There is no need to panic. Be ready and prepare. Get a plan. Prepare to protect your personal property,” Landrieu tweeted.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for all of Louisiana. The storm will “make landfall in the close vicinity of New Orleans,” the proclamation noted, adding that six parishes have declared emergencies and others would do so soon.
A hurricane warning was issued from Grand Isle, Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama-Florida border.
New Orleans, much of which lies below sea level, was gearing up for a hit, and Landrieu urged people who live “outside the city’s levee protection system or in low-lying area” to seek higher ground.
Residents have been wary since the city’s unique drainage system experienced critical deficiencies during heavy summer rainstorms, leading to the flooding of several hundred properties.
Of the city’s 120 main drainage pumps, three major and nine smaller ones were offline Thursday night, city records show.
Also, all 24 major pump stations had backup generators, records show, as only three of five turbines that help power the city’s oldest, most powerful pumps were available for service, a city water utility spokeswoman said.
“Residents who live inside the levee system should prepare to take shelter with essential supplies including food, water, and medications,” the mayor said Thursday.
Edwards authorized 1,300 National Guard troops to mobilize ahead of the storm, with some headed to New Orleans to help monitor the pumps, he said.
Nate would be the first hurricane to hit Louisiana since Hurricane Isaac in 2012 as a Category 1 storm.
The last hurricane to hit the Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama region in October was Hurricane Lili in 2002. The last time three hurricanes hit the mainland in the same year was 2008, when Dolly, Gustav and Ike came ashore.