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Hurricane Zeta slams into Louisiana coast
[NEW ORLEANS] Hurricane Zeta battered the southern United States as a Category 2 storm on Wednesday, bringing dangerous winds and surging ocean waves as New Orleans residents scrambled to prepare against potential flooding.
Zeta weakened as it moved into southeastern Mississippi, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), but was still packing sustained winds of 145 kmh on Wednesday night.
The Miami-based centre also warned that "life-threatening surge and strong winds" would occur over the southeastern parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, which has been repeatedly hit during a busy hurricane season.
The NHC issued a hurricane warning that covered New Orleans. In simultaneous TV and radio interviews, Mayor LaToya Cantrell pleaded with people to stay indoors.
"We're not out of the woods but we are managing very well," she said.
NOLA Ready, New Orleans' official emergency preparedness campaign, warned on Twitter that power lines and trees had been felled. The city emergency medical service tweeted that there had been one "electrocution fatality" from a downed power line.
Heavy wind and sheets of rain cut through the city, and power outages were reported in various areas.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a radio interview that nearly 500,000 were without power in the state.
Officials had urged residents to evacuate vulnerable areas or stock up on emergency supplies of food, water and medication for at least three days.
Curfews were in effect for harder-hit coastal areas.
Zeta hit with just six days to go until Election Day, although it was not expected to affect the outcome, with early voting in Louisiana already finished.
FRENCH QUARTER DESERTED
As rainfall and winds began ahead of the storm's arrival, New Orleans residents rushed to prepare, boarding up windows, moving vehicles and boats to higher ground and in some cases stacking sandbags to guard against potential flooding.
The hurricane is the fifth major storm to hit Louisiana this year.
The New Orleans area has repeatedly had to be on guard, though it has been spared so far this year, with the brunt of earlier storms hitting cities such as Lake Charles, some 320 km west near the Texas border.
This time, though, local officials were urgently warning not to be complacent.
Flooding appeared to be less of a threat this time for the low-lying city - 80 per cent of which flooded during 2005's Hurricane Katrina - because the storm was fast-moving at 40kmh.
Nevertheless, floodgates in the region were being closed and operators of pumps that can struggle to keep water from rising on New Orleans streets during a typical heavy rainfall were at the ready.
Annie Quattlebaum, a 39-year-old biologist, and a group of friends visiting from Denver were stranded when the storm caused their flight to be cancelled.
They were roaming the city's famous French Quarter, largely deserted on Wednesday afternoon, in search of an open store to buy drinks and food as they prepared to hunker down in their hotel for the night.
"We've been told by friends that are familiar with this area and familiar with the weather to have snacks and have your phone charged," said a mask-wearing Quattlebaum.
"We're not going to do anything stupid. We're just going to hunker down while it's going on."
'THESE POOR GUYS'
Along the shores of Lake Catherine, on the far northeastern edge of the city where many locals have weekend homes and commercial fishermen operate, boats were lined up along the higher ground of roadsides.
At Island Marina, Geoff Wallace, 60, secured wood and other material he was using for a construction project to keep it from flying away and becoming missiles.
"It's just a part of living here," he said, gray skies shadowing the marshland and a shrimp boat behind him.
"These poor guys," he said of the marina owners. "They've had to go through this four or five times this year. It gets tiring."
New Orleans remains traumatised by Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people 15 years ago.
Hurricane defences have been vastly improved since then but have not yet been truly tested in the New Orleans area.
Zeta had strengthened to a Category 2 storm on a five-grade scale before landfall.
The hurricane brought strong winds and heavy rains to Mexico's Caribbean coast on Tuesday after making landfall near the resort town of Tulum.
It is the 27th storm of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season.
In September, meteorologists were forced to use the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms for only the second time ever, after the 2020 hurricane season blew through their usual list, ending on Tropical Storm Wilfred.
Scientists say there will likely be an increase in powerful storms as the ocean surface warms due to climate change.