The Latest: President declares emergency in Mississippi

The Associated Press
·20 min read

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Latest on Zeta (all times CDT):

10:45 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has declared an emergency exists in Mississippi and ordered federal assistance be expedited to aid state, local and tribal efforts to recover from Hurricane Zeta.

The president authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in the state and provide help to save lives and protect property.

A statement on the declaration released Wednesday evening said the steps were ordered for the counties of Clarke, Forrest, George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Pearl River, Perry, Stone, and Wayne.

It added that FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide equipment and resources to deal with the emergency caused by Zeta's passage.

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10:35 p.m.

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — In Bay St. Louis in Mississippi, former mayor Les Fillingame said Hurricane Zeta was “very intense” when it blew through.

“It was a noisy storm. It was a truly howling wind,” he said. But, thankfully, it was also fast-moving. “It was a lot of wind for several hours which is enough.”

Zeta roared ashore in neighboring Louisiana on Wednesday afternoon before crossing Mississippi into the Southeast.

Further east along the shore in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Maura Whitlock said this is the first time in the “crazy 2020” storm season that she has lost power at her house on the shore. She said she’d been texting with friends across the city but had not heard of any reports of major damage.

She also said they have some shingles missing from their house and storm surge sent water shooting up the side streets away from the beach. But her house sits on a rise safely out of the way. “It’s definitely more water than we were expecting,” she said.

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10:20 p.m.

MOBILE, Ala. — Storm surge from Hurricane Zeta swamped a low-lying edge of downtown Mobile, in south Alabama.

Traffic cameras showed that the six-lane thoroughfare of Water Street flooded Wednesday evening near the 165-year-old building that houses the city’s science and history museums. Cameras also show water covering roads across the Mobile River on the east bank opposite downtown near the Austal USA naval shipyard. Both areas often flood in hurricanes, but few buildings are likely to be damaged.

A tide gauge at the state docks in Mobile showed a 5-foot (1.5-meter) storm surge, while a gauge in the fishing town of Bayou La Batre, south of Mobile, showed a 6-foot (1.8 meter) storm surge, among the worst since Hurricane Katrina’s storm tide in 2005 inundated much of the town.

Elsewhere, Zeta came at a bad time for Dauphin Island, Alabama, where Mayor Jeff Collier said residents and workers had nearly finished cleaning up from Hurricane Sally when the wind started blowing and the water rising yet again. Roads that were just cleared of sand will have to be plowed again, he said, and there probably will be fresh storm debris to haul away.

“This is going to put his back to square one again,” Collier said.

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10:10 p.m.

MIAMI — Hurricane Zeta is picking up forward speed and is now racing into the U.S. Southeast as it spreads its storm system over parts of Mississippi and neighboring Alabama.

The storm is expected to bring strong, gusty winds to several Southern states during the nighttime hours and during the day Thursday as it races toward the Atlantic Coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Zeta remained a Category 1 hurricane several hours after its Wednesday afternoon landfall in Louisiana. It's packing top sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph) and is moving to the northeast at 31 mph (50 kph).

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — Hurricane Zeta’s winds stripped part of the metal roof from 100 Men Hall, a historic Mississippi music hall in Bay St. Louis originally built by an African American fraternal group.

Owner Rachel Dangermond told local news outlets on Wednesday evening that she heard noises and saw debris during the worst of the storm, but it wasn’t until winds were quieting that neighbors called and said, “Your roof is gone.”

On the neighboring Alabama Gulf Coast, meanwhile, authorities were reporting road and highway flooding in spots. The Alabama Department of Transportation reported that the U.S. 90 causeway across Mobile Bay in that state was submerged and closed to traffic on Wednesday evening. The elevated Interstate 10 stretch in Alabama, which parallels U.S. 90, remains open. according to the department’s website.

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10:05 p.m.

BILOXI, Miss. — News outlets in Mississippi say the main Gulf Coast highway has been submerged in spots by up to 5 feet or more of storm surge water from Hurricane Zeta.

The reports say the low-lying stretch of U.S. 90 on Biloxi, Misssippi’s east end, where the main coastal highway is lined with huge casinos, was submerged by 5 feet (1.5 meters) or more of storm surge. The water sloshed into parking garages, although the main floors of the giant gambling hotels are raised to avoid flooding.

Mississippi’s Gaming Commission didn’t order casinos to close, unlike in most hurricanes, and some casinos allowed gamblers to remain. Among those that allowed patrons to remain was the Golden Nugget in Biloxi, which was surrounded by water.

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10:05 p.m.

WAVELAND, Miss. — Waveland Mayor Mike Smith told WLOX-TV that his Mississippi Gulf Coast city, which was part of the area most heavily damaged by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina has maybe taken the worst hit since then from Zeta.

“We’re going to see a whole lot of damage in the morning,” Smith said Wednesday night as the hurricane was racing across his state after landfall hours earlier in nearby Louisiana.

Among the many trees blown down was one that fell on Smith’s own house. “It was my next-door neighbor’s and he wanted to give it to me apparently,” Smith said wryly.

The mayor said that a storm tide of 5 to 6 feet (up to 2 meters) of water continued to submerge the beachfront road in his city when he was on an inspection tour as winds eased.

Lorri Freeman, a spokesperson for Singing River Electric, a cooperative in southeast Mississippi, tells local news outlets that two-thirds of the utility’s 76,000 customers were without power around 10 p.m. Wednesday. Freeman said crews are unlikely to be able to begin restoring power until after sunrise Thursday.

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10 p.m.

MIAMI — Hurricane Zeta is weakening further but remains a still-dangerous storm as it barrels across Mississippi into the U.S. Southeast.

The National Hurricane Center said Zeta's eye late Wednesday was ;ocated about 15 miles (25 kilometers) south-southeast of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The storm is expected to cross several Southeastern states through the night and into Thursday on a forecast path toward the Eastern Seaboard.

The Miami-based forecasting center said Zeta's maximum sustained winds are about 85 mph (135 kph) or a Category 1 hurricane. It's moving quickly at 25 mph (41 kph) to the north-northeast.

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9:45 p.m

GULFPORT, Miss. — Parts of Mississippi's Gulf Coast are reporting significant storm surge flooding from Hurricane Zeta.

Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson on Mississippi's coast told WLOX-TV that significant flooding was reported Wednesday night in Pass Christian, west of Gulfport. He said storm surge rose in the Bay of St. Louis and connecting waterways.

A tide gauge on the western side of that coastal bay recorded a reading more than 8 feet (2.4 meters) above normal levels. Peterson said deputies also received multiple calls from people who had remained in mobile homes that were threatened by winds.

“It’s bad, it really is,” Peterson said.

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9:30 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS __ The mayor of New Orleans is urging people in the hurricane-struck city to stay home and let city officials assess the damage from Zeta instead of going out and doing it themselves.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell spoke about the need for caution Wednesday night after one person was electrocuted in the city. A coroner confirmed that first known hurricane fatality earlier in the evening.

“Although we have made it through, we have been damaged, we have been hit. So we are assessing the damage as best we can tonight,” Cantrell said. But she repeatedly emphasized that this was something for city officials to do — not regular citizens.

Cantrell added: “We do not want to lose another life.”

City officials said they had over 200 reports of downed trees across the city after the storm made landfall in Louisiana. The director of the city’s emergency operations, Collin Arnold, said the city saw sustained winds of up to 50 mph (80 kph) with gusts to 80 mph (130 kph) at times.

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9:15 p.m.

BATON ROUGE, La. __ Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana is reminding people going out to help with hurricane recovery on Thursday that they need to take precautions against the coronavirus.

Storm-weary Louisiana has seen neighbors, church groups and others fan out after every other disaster this year. And when recovery mode kicks in in earnest, Edwards said, people need to be wary of the ongoing pandemic.

“Offer the help but do it with a mask on,” Edwards said during a radio interview Wednesday night, hours after Hurricane Zeta's landfall on the Louisiana coast.

More than 5,600 people in Louisiana have died of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the state health department.

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8:55 p.m.

MONTEGUT, La. — Sarah Dean sheltered in her home in Montegut just miles (kilometers) from where Hurricane Zeta came ashore in southeast Louisiana.

The storm dumped rain, whipped trees and jostled power lines in Dean’s subdivision. The ground outside was entirely saturated with water. Dean, 35, lives about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Cocodrie, where Zeta made landfall on Wednesday afternoon.

After about 1 and 1/2 hours of battering rains and wind, she peeked out off her front porch to see a tree fallen on her staircase, debris littering her yard and the fence downed around her outdoor pool.

“I wasn’t scared, I was kind of excited, but I didn’t want it to hurt anybody or anything so when the tree fell, that got a little scary,” Dean said.

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8:50 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana coroner is confirming the first known death from Hurricane Zeta, that of a 55-year-old man who was electrocuted by downed power lines.

Aly Neel, a spokesperson with the Louisiana Department of Health, said the death was disclosed by the coroner for Orleans Parish on Wednesday night. The dead man's name wasn't immediately released by the coroner's office and exact circumstances of the death were not immediately disclosed.

The first fatality report came hours after Zeta howled ashore in southeast Louisiana as an unexpectedly strong Category 2 hurricane. Packing 110-mph (175-kph) winds, it was just 1 mph (1.6 kph) shy of a devastating Category 3 hurricane.

The extent of the disaster wasn't immediately known after nightfall, though an official in one hard-hit parish reported multiple distress calls to emergency responders from people whose roofs were torn away.

(Eds. Note: Corrects Neel's first name to Aly in this item.)

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8:30 p.m.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana's governor says Hurricane Zeta has caused extensive structural damage to businesses and homes in hard-hit areas of the state's southeast.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a radio interview Wednesday evening that there also have been extensive power outages after the storm crash ashore in the afternoon as a powerful Category 2 storm.

He said Plaquemines Parish in the region saw 94 percent of its users lose power. He also said boats broke loose and struck a bridge in the south Louisiana community of Lafitte.

The extent of damages wasn't immediately known Wednesday night, and the governor is expected to tour the damaged areas on Thursday. Meanwhile, there were no immediate reports on any injuries or deaths.

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8:05 p.m.

MIAMI — Hurricane Zeta is weakening as it races into Mississippi, though strong winds and a dangerous storm surge are continuing.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said top sustained winds have now dropped to 90 mph (145 kph) and Zeta is now a Category 1 hurricane. Zeta made landfall on Wednesday afternoon in southern Louisiana as a powerful Category 2 storm with top sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph).

The core of the storm as of 8 p.m. Wednesday was centered about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north-northeast of Slidell, Louisiana. Zeta is now picking up forward speed and heading inland across southeast Mississippi. It's now moving ahead at about a 25-mph (40-kph) clip and is expected to cross the Southeast overnight and Thursday.

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8 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS __ Large sections of the French Quarter district of New Orleans appeared to be in darkness after Hurricane Zeta blew across southeast Louisiana.

The first few blocks of the famed Bourbon Street in the tourist district had power Wednesady night but then the rest of the street was black. A few people were walking through the streets of the historic district but the only illumination in many areas came from the occasional headlights of cars. But nearby in the city’s Central Business District, power was still on in the city’s tall buildings.

Meanwhile, officials in the New Orleans metro area are calling on people across the region to stay home as the worst of Zeta appeared to have passed. Officials said they don’t want people to venture out of their houses while it’s dark and possibly run into downed trees or power lines.

The sheriff of one of the state’s coastal areas, Gerald Turlich, told WWL-TV that damage can be hard to see at night. He said a mobile home trailer in one area blew over with no one inside. Several other trailers also were damaged but he said most people living in the mobile homes had already evacuated.

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7 p.m.

Hurricane Zeta has begun to batter Mississippi's Gulf Coast with a dangerous storm surge, high winds and heavy rain.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Zeta was packing 100-mph (160-kph) sustained winds as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, its eye centered just 10 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of Slidell, Louisiana, not far from the Mississippi line.

The storm is racing to the north-northeast at 25 mph (41 kph). Forecasters say the storm will roar into southeastern Mississippi over the coming hour or two and howl across the Southeast states on Thursday en route to the East Coast. Several Southeast states are in the cross hairs of the fast-moving storm over the coming day.

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6:50 p.m.

CHALMETTE, La. — An official in an area southeast of New Orleans says authorities are fielding numerous calls from people in distress whose roofs were torn away by Hurricane Zeeta.

Guy McInnis, president of St. Bernard Parish in southeast Louisiana, said first responders are answering the calls as best they can in the parish, which is similar to a U.S. county.

“We have multiple reports of people in distress with their roofs being blown off,” Parish President Guy McInnis told WDSU-TV. He added: “We’re going to get out there as soon as we can.”

McInnis didn't have immediate details of the amount damage after powerful Hurricane Zeta roared ashore Wednesday afternoon in south Louisiana, packing 110-mph (175-kph) winds. But he said “we received the brunt of Zeta, and Zeta gave us a good punch."

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6:30 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Officials say a person has been taken to a hospital with minor injuries after a structure collapsed in New Orleans as Hurricane Zeta pummeled the city.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell told WDSU-TV that the person sustained minor injuries after the collapse on Washington Avenue.

“Knowing that they’re minor injuries, it does give me some relief,” she said in a live interview with the station. No other details were immediately available, including how big the structure was.

Zeta made landfall along the south Louisiana coast Wednesday afternoon and has been hitting the city with fierce winds as a Category 2 storm.

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5:50 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Zeta is hammering New Orleans with high winds, toppling trees, sparking numerous power outages and knocking street lights out at several intersections.

The powerful Category 2 hurricane took aim at the Mississippi River port city after making landfall Wednesday afternoon along the south Louisiana coast.

At one New Orleans intersection, a 70-foot-tall (20-meter) tree split in fierce winds, taking down utility lines and sparking a brief but bright orange flash. Video on local television showed the branches on palm trees on the city’s Canal Street blowing furiously in the wind and oak trees shaking elsewhere from the pounding.

According to the emergency operations Twitter feed for the city of New Orleans, over 80,000 people in the city of nearly 400,000 residents were without power.

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5 p.m.

Forecasters say the eyewall of powerful Hurricane Zeta is approaching New Orleans as it is being buffeted by high winds.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said a life-threatening storm surge is also occurring after Zeta powered ashore Wednesday afternoon on the south Louisiana coast.

Forecasters are warning those in Zeta's path not to venture out when the calm eye of the hurricane passes overhead. “Dangerous winds will return very quickly when the eye moves away, Stronger winds, especially in gusts, are likely on high rise buildings,” the hurricane center said in a statement.

Winds already where whipping through New Orleans as Zeta started to hammer the city. Only one or two cars could be seen on the streets and a bridge across the Mississippi River was hidden behind a wall of storm clouds. The wail of a police siren could be heard, and power outages were being reported in various neighborhoods around New Orleans.

The center of Zeta was located at 5 p.m. about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south-southwest of New Orleans. Top sustained winds remained at 110 mph (175 kph) — just 1 mph (1.6 kph) shy of a devastating Category 3 hurricane.

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4:25 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Zeta powered ashore just 1 mph (1.6 kph) shy of a devastating Category 3 hurricane, gaining in intensity just before its south Louisiana landfall.

Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said Zeta's 110 mph (175 kph) winds would make it the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States this late in the calendar since the 1899 Halloween Hurricane struck South Carolina. The storm roared ashore Wednesday afternoon.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Zeta's core was centered about 65 miles (105 kilometers) south-southwest of New Orleans. Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the hurricane's top sustained winds had strengthened slightly before landfall.

In coastal Louisiana, the president of St. Bernard Parish, Guy McInnis, called on residents to stay home as Zeta pummels the region. Speaking on WDSU-TV he said he could see oak trees in front of his building swaying back and said he’s very concerned about high winds.

He also said he was praying for the best outcome — meaning no deaths or injuries.

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4 p.m.

MIAMI — The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Zeta has crashed ashore in storm-weary Louisiana as a powerful Category 2 storm, striking the latest blow of an extraordinarily busy Atlantic tropical storm season.

The Miami-based center says a hurricane hunter aircraft confirmed at 4 p.m. Wednesday that the menacing storm had made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana.

The fast-moving storm came ashore on the southern Louisiana coastline in a region of the Gulf Coast that has already been in the crosshairs of earlier storms this season.

The storms this season have so far veered away from New Orleans, but this time the low-lying city appeared squarely in the hurricane’s path. Officials have said the biggest concern with this storm is the high winds but have also said that the storm is moving fast. That means it won’t linger and dump huge amounts of rain.

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3:45 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Heavy rains are pelting New Orleans and the wind has begun to pick up as Hurricane Zeta nears the south Louisiana coast.

The city’s touristy French Quarter was largely deserted as stronger winds were lashing the coast. Some power outages were reported in New Orleans, a low-lying city beside the Mississippi River.

David Camardelle is the mayor of Grand Isle, a barrier island along the Louisiana coast. He told broadcaster WDSU on Wednesday that everyone is “bunkered down” as they were starting to get “some serious wind.” But he said so far they haven’t seen big storm surges.

In a 3 p.m. update, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm has top sustained winds of 110 mph (about 175 kph). It was just 1 mph (1.6 kph) shy of becoming a powerful Category 3 storm.

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3:15 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Zeta is just short of being considered a major hurricane as it speeds toward storm-weary Louisiana with New Orleans squarely in its path.

Forecasters say the storm is expected to make landfall in southeast Louisiana on Wednesday afternoon.

In a 3 p.m. update, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm has top sustained winds of 110 mph (about 175 kph). It was just 1 mph (1.6 kph) shy of becoming a powerful Category 3 storm.

If Zeta makes landfall with 110 mph (175 kph) winds it will be the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States this late in the calendar since the 1899 Halloween Hurricane hit South Carolina, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

Zeta is located about 60 miles ( kilometers) southwest of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and is racing north-northeast at 22 mph (35 kph).

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3 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Zeta became the seventh Atlantic storm this season to officially rapidly intensify, jumping from 65 mph Tuesday to 100 mph Wednesday.

Over the past couple decades, meteorologists have been increasingly worried about storms that just blow up in strength, like Zeta. They created an official threshold for this dangerous powering up — a storm gaining 35 mph (56 kph) in wind speed in just 24 hours.

Earlier this year Hannah, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma and Delta all rapidly intensified. An eighth storm, Marco, just missed the mark. Laura and Delta tied or set records for rapid intensification. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate and hurricane scientist Jim Kossin studied the effect and found storms now are more likely to rapidly intensify than they did in the 1980s and “a lot of that has to do with human-caused climate change.”

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3 p.m.

ATLANTA — More than 20 north Georgia public school districts, including the state’s two largest, are telling students not to come to school on Thursday because of storm Zeta.

School officials are calling off school because of the fear of rain, wind and power outages from Hurricane Zeta as it makes its way inland. Many districts are telling students to work remotely by computer from home, with teachers also delivering lessons from home.

Among districts that are calling off in-person classes are the 180,000-student Gwinnett County district and the 110,000-student Cobb County district, both in the northern suburbs of Atlanta.

“This decision was made in keeping with our commitment to student and staff safety, with particular concern for our youngest bus riders,” the Cobb district said in a statement.