NEW YORK: A fast-moving Zeta weakened to a tropical storm as it barreled northeast on Thursday morning after ripping through the US states of Louisiana and Mississippi where storm-weary residents were advised to stay indoors overnight while officials assessed the havoc the storm had wrought.

The storm raged onshore on Wednesday afternoon in Louisiana as a strong Category 2 and then moved swiftly across the New Orleans area and into neighbouring Mississippi, bringing with it both fierce winds and storm surge.

There was heavy rain at times, but since the storm was so fast-moving, rain-related flooding wasn’t as much of a concern.

Zeta weakened over central Alabama, but its strong winds continued across portions of the state and the Florida Panhandle. The storm was about 100 kilometres west northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, with maximum sustained winds of 96kph.

The storm killed at least one person, a 55-year-old man who a Louisiana coroner said was electrocuted by a downed power line in New Orleans.

Before dawn on Thursday, about two million customers across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia were without power, according to the website PowerOutage.us.

A mayor in Mississippi said his city had perhaps taken the worst hit since from Zeta.

“We’re going to see a whole lot of damage in the morning,” Mike Smith said. Among the many trees blown down was one that fell on Smith’s own house. “It was my next-door neighbour’s and he wanted to give it to me, apparently.”

In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards was expected to tour the coastal regions hardest hit by the storm. During a radio interview, Edwards said the wind had caused extensive structural damage. And as neighbours and church groups started reaching out to help those affected, he also highlighted the need to protect against the coronavirus at the same time.

“Offer the help but do it with a mask on”, he said.

Much of New Orleans and the surrounding area was without power on Wednesday night.

The storm packed a punch as it whipped through the city. Signs outside bars and restaurants swayed back and forth in the wind and palm trees along Canal Street whipped furiously. Officials said a person was hospitalised with minor injuries after a structure collapsed.

More than 200 trees were reported down in the city. Echoing a plea made by officials across the Gulf coast in the dark hours after the storm passed, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell implored residents to stay home and let city officials assess the damage.

“Although we have made it through, we have been damaged, we have been hit,” she said.

Along coastal Louisiana, there were reports of some trailers flipped over, a gas station destroyed, and downed power lines and trees.

Zeta had top sustained winds of 177kph as a Category 2 hurricane at landfall and is the 27th named storm of a historically busy Atlantic hurricane season, with over a month left to go.

It set a new record as the 11th named storm to make landfall in the continental US in a single season, well beyond the nine storms that hit in 1916.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020