MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) – Tropical Storm Nate gained force as it sped toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula Friday after drenching Central America in rain that was blamed for at least 21 deaths. Forecasters said it was likely to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend.
Louisiana and Mississippi officials declared states of state of emergency and Louisiana ordered some people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands ahead of its expected landfall Saturday night or early Sunday. Evacuations began at some offshore oil platforms in the Gulf.
Mississippi’s government said it would open 11 evacuation shelters in areas away from the immediate coast, with buses available for people who can’t drive.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that Nate could raise sea levels by 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 meters) from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. It had already had caused deadly flooding in much of Central America.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) by Friday morning and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea on Friday before a possible strike on the Cancun region at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at near-hurricane strength. It could hit the U.S. Gulf coast near New Orleans.
The storm was located about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east-southeast of the Mexican resort island of Cozumel and had accelerated its north-northwest movement to 21 mph (33 kph).