Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET
Tropical Storm Nate was gathering force in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea on Friday as it made its way toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, which was bracing for a potential direct hit Sunday.
The storm has already unleashed heavy rain and flooding over parts of Central America, where several people have died.
In Nicaragua, the death toll reached at least 11 on Thursday, while thousands of people had to evacuate their homes and several others were reported missing, according to Vice President Rosario Murillo. Nate follows nearly two weeks of heavy rain that has saturated the ground there, reports The Associated Press. Murillo said the recent rainfall is not part of Nate’s storm system.
In Costa Rica, officials blamed the storm for at least seven deaths, AP says. Schools across the country were suspended Thursday because of heavy rainfall.
In Honduras, two young people drowned in a swollen river, and in neighboring El Salvador, a man was killed in a mudslide, reports Reuters.
By Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said Nate was located about 100 miles off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico, and headed north-northwest at 21 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, but forecasters said the gusts would pick up over the next couple of days. By the time Nate reaches the northern Gulf of Mexico, it is expected to be a hurricane.
Parts of Louisiana, Florida and Alabama are all at risk. A hurricane watch was in effect Friday for parts of Louisiana, including New Orleans, and a hurricane warning was in place for Grand Isle, Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Thursday in anticipation of Nate’s arrival and is asking President Trump to declare “a pre-landfall state of emergency.”
At a briefing, Edwards said Louisiana is expected to take a direct hit early Sunday morning, but parts of the state could feel the force of the winds by Saturday evening. Edwards said rainfall could reach 6 inches in some areas, with storm surge of up to 6 feet.
It has been a devastating hurricane season, and Nate is an unwelcome reminder that it is not over yet. The season continues until the end of November.
Louisiana National Guard soldiers have been helping with recovery efforts in Puerto Rico in Hurricane Maria’s aftermath. Now more than 1,000 state guardsmen have been mobilized ahead of Nate, some in New Orleans to monitor drainage pumps, which have already undergone damage.
“We don’t anticipate that this is going to cause devastating impact to New Orleans or exceed the ability for the pumps or the electrical generation down there to pump out that water,” Edwards said. But he added, “I’m not going to tell you I am not concerned.”