NEW ORLEANS (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hurricane Nate made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River as a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds just before 8 p.m. Saturday.
Nate was expected to pass to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. And its quick speed decreased the likelihood of prolonged rain that would tax the city’s weakened drainage pump system. Still, the city famous for all-night partying was placed under a curfew, effective at 7 p.m., and the streets were not nearly as crowded as they would be on a typical Saturday night.
Cities along the Mississippi coast such as Gulfport and Biloxi were on high alert. Some beachfront hotels and casinos were evacuated. Rain began falling on the region Saturday and forecasters called for 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) with as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) in some isolated places.
Nate weakened slightly and was a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 85 mph (137 kph) when it made landfall. Forecasters had said it was possible that it could strengthen to a Category 2, but that seemed less likely as the night wore on.
Storm surge threatened low-lying communities in southeast Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama fishing village of Bayou la Batre.
“If it floods again, this will be it. I can’t live on promises,” said Larry Bertron as said as he and his wife prepared to leave their home in the Braithwaite community of vulnerable Plaquemines Parish. The hurricane veterans lost one home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and were leaving the home they rebuilt after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency. The three states have been mostly spared during this hectic hurricane season.
“This is the worst hurricane that has impacted Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina,” Mississippi Emergency Management Director Lee Smithson said Saturday. “Everyone needs to understand that, that this is a significantly dangerous situation.”
“This is a nighttime storm. Nighttime storms kill people,” Harrison County FEMA Director Rubert Lacy added.
Mississippi residents were urged to evacuate area beaches and seek higher ground.
Flooding was a major concern for Antippe Blakely, who was busy filling sandbags Saturday, CBS News’ Courtney Zubowki reported.
“We don’t want what happened with Katrina to happen. We’re just being prepared,” she said.
Gov. Phil Bryant said the powerful storm could create a storm surge of 11 to 13 feet.
“This is a big storm and it’s moving in a hurry,” he said. “It’ll get a lot of wind, a lot of water.”
A marina in Gulfport, which was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, is under mandatory evacuation. Some people spent their Saturday securing their boats ahead of the storm’s arrival, while more than half of the owners took theirs out.
“I had a plan and I was ahead of the curve,” said Lloyd Munn. “Now it’s too late. Matter of fact, yesterday afternoon might have been too late.”
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.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told residents to make final preparations quickly and stressed that Nate will bring the possibility of storm surge reaching up to 11 feet in some coastal areas.
“Three quarters of all fatalities related to hurricanes happen because of water, and we don’t want people driving at night,” Edwards said.
“It’s going to hit and move through our area at a relatively fast rate, limiting the amount of time it’s going to drop rain,” he added. “But this is a very dangerous storm nonetheless.”
Streets in low-lying areas of Louisiana were already flooded. Places outside of levee protections were under mandatory evacuation orders and shelters opened there.
Some people worried about New Orleans’ pumping system, which had problems during a heavy thunderstorm on Aug. 5. The deluge exposed system weaknesses – including the failure of some pumps and power-generating turbines – and caused homes and businesses to flood. Repairs have been made but the system remained below maximum pumping capacity.
On Alabama’s Dauphin Island, water washed over the road Saturday on the island’s low-lying west end, said Mayor Jeff Collier. The storm was projected to bring storm surges from seven to 11 feet near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Some of the biggest impacts could be at the top of funnel-shaped Mobile Bay.
“With Hurricane Nate, we see strong storm surges and heavy rains, and there’s a high probability of tornadoes and wind damage,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said.
With Nate marching to a second landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, gauges showed tides are 4 feet above normal from Shell Beach, Louisiana, east of New Orleans, to Bayou La Batre, Alabama, southwest of Mobile. In Mississippi, Hancock County Emergency Management Director Brian Adam said his agency received reports of rising water on low-lying streets facing the Mississippi Sound and the Bay of St. Louis. In Biloxi, authorities reported water from Biloxi Bay rising on some streets.
The window for preparing “is quickly closing,” Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents of the Panhandle to prepare for Nate’s impact.
“Hurricane Nate is expected to bring life-threatening storm surges, strong winds and tornados that could reach across the Panhandle,” Scott said. The evacuations affect roughly 100,000 residents in the western Panhandle.
The Pensacola International Airport announced it will close at 6 p.m. Saturday and remain closed on Sunday. However, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was open Saturday.
“We are urging customers to check with their specific airlines to see whether their flights have been canceled because there have been some of those,” spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said.
At 8 p.m. EDT Saturday, Nate was about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm is expected to quickly weaken as it cuts a path through the Southeast on its way to the Northeast, which could see impacts from Nate early next week.
Nate killed at least 21 people after strafing Central America.
Waterside sections of New Orleans, outside the city’s levee system, were under an evacuation order. About 2,000 people were affected. But not everyone was complying.
Gabriel Black stayed behind because an 81-year-old neighbor refused to leave.
“I know it sounds insane, but he has bad legs and he doesn’t have anybody who can get to him,” Black said.
Ahead of Saturday night’s curfew, some bars were closed in the French Quarter but music blasted from others.
“We’re down here from Philly and we’re not going to just stay in our hotel room,” said Kelly Howell, who was drinking with friends at The Bourbon Street Drinkery.
President Donald Trump has approved an emergency declaration for a large area of Louisiana and ordered federal assistance for the state.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)