Hurricane Zeta smashed into Louisiana on Wednesday with 110-mile-per-hour (175 kph) winds and what government trackers called "a life-threatening storm surge," the third hurricane to hit the U.S. Gulf Coast state this year.
Zeta's extremely dangerous winds pummeled a stretch of the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Mississippi. The category 2 storm tied a 15-year-old record for the most hurricane strikes on the state in a single year.
Zeta had raced across the Gulf of Mexico, intensifying to 20 miles per hour as it advanced over gulf waters. Its winds made it a strong Category 2 storm on the 5-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Zeta's damaging winds will reach New Orleans, about 98 miles northeast from Cocodrie, Louisiana, and sweep "across portions of southeastern Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Georgia," said hurricane center forecaster Richard Pasch. Severe wind gusts could be felt on Thursday across the southern Appalachian Mountains, he said.
Its storm surge will reach up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) from Port Fourchon, Louisiana, to the mouth of the Pearl River, in Mississippi. The storm surge could spill over the levees guarding some of the state's east.
Rains of 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) are expected from the Gulf Coast to the central Appalachians, the NHC said.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards urged residents to take shelter, promising rescue and recovery aid would be available immediately after the storm departed the southeast area.
New Orleans halted city and transit services and advised residents living outside the state's protective levee system to leave for higher ground. Coastal and low-lying communities along the state's Gulf Coast called for mandatory evacuations.
Oil and gas producers have evacuated 231 offshore production facilities and shut wells producing two-thirds of the offshore region's oil production and 45% of its natural gas output.
Louisiana and Alabama issued state emergency orders and the Trump administration declared an emergency that provides additional federal resources to Louisiana.
A Louisiana landfall would make Zeta the fifth named storm to directly strike the state this year after Cristobal, Marco, Laura and Delta. Tropical Storm Beta went ashore over the border in Texas, bringing winds and flooding rains.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams; editing by David Gregorio, John Stonestreet, Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis)