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Saturday, December 5, 2020

Hurricane Zeta Speeds Toward A Storm-Weary Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Zeta was speeding toward storm-weary Louisiana and intensifying, with landfall expected as a Category 2 hurricane Wednesday afternoon. New Orleans, where a pump system failure has raised flood risks, was squarely in its way.

Life-threatening storm surge and strong winds were expected beginning around midday along the U.S. Gulf Coast, where residents braced for the 27th named storm of a historically busy Atlantic hurricane season.

Louisiana has had the worst of it, hit by two tropical storms and two hurricanes. New Orleans has been in the warning area for potential tropical cyclones seven times this year, each one veering to the east or west.

“I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky with this one,” city emergency director Collin Arnold said.

Zeta had been predicted to hit as a relatively weak Category 1 hurricane, but Louisiana residents awoke to updated forecasts predicting a Category 2, with top winds of nearly 100 mph (160 kph) at landfall.

“The confidence is becoming very high that the southeastern part of Louisiana and coastal Mississippi are going to see some significant impacts from this storm,” said meteorologist Shawn O’Neil of the National Weather Service in New Orleans.

Zeta raked across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday, toppling trees and briefly cutting power to more than 300,000 people but causing no deaths, before strengthening again along a path slightly east of Hurricane Laura, which was blamed for at least 27 Louisiana deaths after it struck in August, and Hurricane Delta, which exacerbated Laura’s damage in the same area just weeks later.

By late Wednesday morning, Zeta’s top winds had grown to 90 mph (150 kph) and its forward movement increased to 18 mph (28 kph) as its center moved north, about 235 miles (380 kilometers) south of New Orleans.

Hurricane warnings stretched from Morgan City, Louisiana to the Alabama/Mississippi state line, including Lake Pontchartrain and metropolitan New Orleans. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the western Florida Panhandle, forcing early-voting sites to close for hours in three counties where Republicans dominate.

The center of Zeta should make landfall in southeastern Louisiana in the afternoon, then move over Mississippi in the evening before crossing the southeastern and eastern United States on Thursday, the hurricane center said.

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