Nate takes aim at northern Gulf Coast, but forecast improves

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MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) Forecasts improved Friday for Tropical Storm Nate, which is no longer expected to rapidly intensify before hitting the northern Gulf Coast.

The system, with sustained winds of 70 mph, is headed first toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula after drenching Central America in rain that was blamed for at least 22 deaths, and forecasters said it could reach the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend.

Nate will not impact Southwest Florida, WINK meteorologist Matt Devitt said.

“This is not going to be our storm,” Devitt said.

MORE: Tropical Storm Nate to miss SWFL

Louisiana officials declared a state of emergency and ordered some people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands ahead of its expected landfall early Sunday, and evacuations began at some offshore oil platforms in the Gulf.

But forecasts that called for the system to become a hurricane Saturday changed as of the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. advisory Friday. It now looks to make landfall along the northern Gulf Coast as a tropical storm or weak Category 1 Hurricane, WINK meteorologist Zach Maloch said.

In Nicaragua, Nate’s arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.

Nicaragua’s vice president and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 15 people had died in that country due to the storm. She didn’t give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.

Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Organism blamed seven deaths in that country on the storm and said 15 people were missing. Flooding drove 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.

The forecast track showed that Nate could brush across the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as a tropical storm late Friday night.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 headed to New Orleans to monitor the fragile pumping system there.

MORE: Isolated storms and breezy conditions expected, TS Nate eyes Gulf Coast

Officials ordered the evacuation of part of coastal St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans ahead of the storm. Earlier Thursday, a voluntary evacuation was called in the barrier island town of Grand Isle south of New Orleans.

New Orleans officials outlined steps to bolster the city’s pump and drainage system. Weaknesses in that system were revealed during summer flash floods.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s New Orleans office said in a news release that as of midday Thursday, six production platforms, out of the 737 manned platforms in the Gulf, had been evacuated. No drilling rigs were evacuated, but one moveable rig was taken out of the storm’s path.

The agency estimated less than 15 percent of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in, which equates to 254,607 barrels of oil per day.

At 11 p.m. Friday, the storm was centered about 100 miles west-northwest of Cuba, and was moving north-northwest at 22 mph.

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