Hurricane Zeta strengthens as it barrels toward the US with life-threatening storm surge

Heavy wind, rain and surge that could reach 5 to 8 feet above normal tide are forecast to move in by midday Wednesday ahead of an afternoon landfall in southeastern Louisiana, 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.

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

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

Zeta’s quick pace — 17 mph at 8 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 at Category 1 strength with 90 mph sustained winds, Zeta is expected to strengthen to Category 2 and accelerate to over 20 mph at landfall before moving ashore near Grand Isle or in Plaquemines Parish, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

It was about 265 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River at 8 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.

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

Preparing for disaster

State officials are preparing for damage even before Zeta reaches their coasts.

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

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.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel 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,” Edwards said.

The wreckage in Mexico

Palm trees are buffeted by the winds of Hurricane Zeta in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, early Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

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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