(BILOXI, Miss.) — A fast-moving storm called Nate brought flooding and power outages to the U.S. Gulf Coast early Sunday after it sloshed ashore outside Biloxi, Mississippi — the first hurricane to make landfall in that state since Katrina devastated the region 12 years ago.
The storm hit Mississippi as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 85 mph (140 kph) but weakened later to a tropical storm as it moved inland, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. More than 100,000 residents in Mississippi and Alabama were without power following the arrival of Nate, but no deaths or injuries were reported early Sunday. Authorities were beginning to assess the storm’s impacts, but most areas in Nate’s path seem to have avoided major damage – including New Orleans.
City of Biloxi employees were working to clear debris on Highway 90, the main beachfront highway, before dawn. Nate washed up sand and logs and even a large trash bin into the four-lane highway. Despite the debris, there was little to no damage to structures that were visible. A handful of businesses were reopening before dawn, and the storm surge that washed across the highway had receded by 6 a.m.
Storm surge flooded the parking structure of the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, but a city official said there were no immediate reports of flooding on the floors of any casinos.
“We are thankful because this looked like it was going to be a freight train barreling through the city,” said Vincent Creel, a city spokesman.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said there were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths or injuries in the state. Roughly 1,100 people spent the night in shelters.
“Thankfully, right now we have no major damage reports,” he said.
Hancock County Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Adam said Nate’s storm surge flooded roads in low-lying areas, but he hadn’t heard any reports of flooded homes.
“We turned out fairly good,” he said as he prepared to survey neighborhoods for possible damage. “Until we get out and actually get into some of the areas, we really won’t know.”
In Louisiana, fears that Nate would overwhelm the fragile pumping system of the city of New Orleans proved unfounded. The storm passed to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. Mayor Mitch Landrieu lifted a curfew on the city known for all-night partying on Saturday night.
Nate has been steadily weakening since making first landfall in a sparsely populated area of Plaquemines (PLAK’-uh-minz) Parish. As of 8 a.m. EDT, Nate was centered about 95 miles (155 kilometers) west-southwest of Montgomery, Alabama, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph). Although the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Nate was “rapidly weakening,” the misery associated with heavy rain was to persist over a wide area.
Through Monday, Nate was expected to bring 3 to 6 inches of rain to the Deep South, eastern Tennessee Valley and southern Appalachians. The Ohio Valley and central Appalachians could also get heavy rain, the hurricane center said.
Nate’s powerful winds have knocked out power to more than 100,000 customers in Mississippi and Alabama, but didn’t have the intensity other storms — Harvey, Irma and Jose — had during this busy hurricane season. Nate was the first hurricane-strength storm to make landfall in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, reducing thousands of beachfront homes and businesses to slabs.
In Alabama, the storm’s rising water flooded homes and cars on the coast and inundated at least one major thoroughfare in downtown Mobile. Storm surge also flooded Water Street in downtown Mobile and a ground-level causeway across Mobile Bay. Alabama Department of Transportation traffic cameras show water still standing on both those routes before dawn Sunday.
Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said he woke up around 3 a.m. Sunday to discover knee-deep water in his yard. Although some homes and cars on the island had flooded, Collier said he hadn’t heard of any reports of residents needing to be rescued. Collier also said the water levels appeared to be falling as dawn approached.
“We didn’t think it would be quite that bad,” he said. “It kind of snuck up on us in the wee hours of the morning.”
At sunrise in Pensacola Beach, Fla., a small front-end loader was scraping sand off a parking lot and returning it to the nearby beach. Sand was also pushed up onto the decks of beachside bars and restaurants. Daren Fromel, 50, of Gulf Breeze, Florida, drove to Pensacola Beach at sunrise to see what Nate did.
“It’s a little more intense than I expected. I didn’t expect to see sand in the parking lot,” he said.
Officials rescued five people from two sailboats in choppy waters before the storm. One 41-foot sailboat lost its engine in Lake Pontchartrain and two sailors were saved. Another boat hit rocks in the Mississippi Sound and three people had to be plucked from the water.