NEW ORLEANS – Hurricane Zeta slammed into the storm-weary Gulf Coast on Wednesday, pelting the New Orleans metro area with rain and howling winds that ripped apart buildings and knocked out power to thousands before rapidly making its way through Mississippi and Alabama with strong gusty winds, heavy rains and dangerous storm surge.
Zeta weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 80 mph (128 kph) as it moved into southern Mississippi few hours after landfall, but forecasters said it remained a life-threatening storm. The storm was about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Hattiesburg early Wednesday. A 91 mph (146 kph) wind gust blew through Mobile, Alabama, Tuesday and a NOAA gauge reported a 10-foot storm surge in Waveland, Mississippi.
Even as Zeta battered the south, the upcoming election was still on the mind of some residents.
“A lot of roads are blocked off right now cause the trees and other debris that have fallen. With the election I just kind of hope the city gets the roads clear by November 3rd so everybody can get out and vote," said Mackenzie Umanzo, 19. "Hopefully everybody can show up who wants to show up,” the D’Iberville, Mississippi, resident said.
The storm had claimed three lives as of Thursday morning — one person died after a tree fell on a mobile home in Georgia, one person drowned in Mississippi, and one person in Louisiana was electrocuted by a downed wire.
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said emergency workers were doing their best to respond to reports of people in distress after their roofs were blown off.
“Guys, we received the brunt of Zeta, and Zeta gave us a good punch,” McInnis told WDSU-TV.
Roads were flooded near the coast, where forecasters said Zeta made landfall around Terrebone Bay near Cocodrie, an unincorporated fishing village at the end of a highway with few if any full-time residents and a marine laboratory where a building was inundated.