'It's Coming Fast, It's Coming Strong': Hurricane Zeta Makes Landfall With 110 MPH Winds

Oct 28, 2020

7:45 p.m.

Roughly 400,000 Louisiana residents are without power after Hurricane Zeta tore through the region Wednesday evening. More than two-thirds of the outages are based in Orleans and Jefferson Parish, according to Entergy's website. 

 Authorities are urging residents to stay indoors and stay off the streets. There are reports of multiple downed powerlines and debris throughout the region. In New Orleans,  one person was fatally electrocuted, according to authorities. Jefferson Parish officials are also asking residents to limit non-essential sewage usage like showering or cleaning dishes because of the strain on sewer systems caused by power outages.

  6 p.m. 

Power outages are now widespread across Southeast Louisiana. Here are the latest numbers as of 6:00 p.m. Wednesday:

Ascension: 857

Assumption: 1,014

Jefferson: 121,173

Lafourche: 8,829

Orleans: 95,390

Plaquemines: 9,284

St. Bernard: 13,453

St. John: 833

St. James: 0

St. Tammany: 4,386

Tangipahoa: 76

Terrebonne: 10,148

5 p.m.

Power outages are beginning to pile up as Zeta comes ashore. Here’s the status as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Orleans: 37,358

Jefferson: 32,518

St. Bernard: 2,153

Plaquemines: 5,564

Terrebonne: 6,178

Lafourche: 3,832

St. Tammany (Cleco): 205

St. Tammany (Washington St. Tammany Cooperative): 68

St. John: 833

St. James: 0

4 p.m.

Hurricane Zeta is making landfall in Southeast Louisiana with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph and stronger gusts, the National Hurricane Center reported at 4 p.m.

The Category 2 storm (just shy of Category 3 wind speeds) is moving at 24 mph and is about 65 miles from New Orleans.

The NHC is now predicting storm surge of 7 to 11 feet from the mouth of the Pearl River to Mississippi-Alabama border. Lake Pontchartrain storm surge is expected to be 4 to 6 feet, and storm surge from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Pearl River, including Lake Borgne, .is expected to be 5 to 7 feet.

Wind remains a bigger concern than rain. Zeta is expected to drop 2 to 4 inches, with isolated pockets of 6 inches from the central Gulf Coast to the Mid-Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. There could be flash, urban, small stream and minor river flooding.

A few tornadoes are expected over southeastern parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the western Panhandle of Florida.

3 p.m.

Hurricane Zeta's maximum sustained winds are now at 110 mph. The Category 2 storm is expected to make landfall within about an hour.

A wind gust to 46 mph was reported at New Orleans Lakefront Airport, according to the NHC.

Zeta is about 60 miles from Grand Isle and 100 miles from New Orleans, moving at 22 mph.

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Gov. John Bel Edwards warned Louisianans in the path of Hurricane Zeta to final preparations and hunker down as the Category 2 zeroes in on the state.

Edwards had to hold his pre-landfall press briefing two hours ahead of schedule because Hurricane Zeta strengthened and picked up speed overnight. 

“Its forward speed means that it's not going to pound for hour-after-hour. It should move through the area relatively quickly,” Edwards said.

Still, communities on the stronger eastern side of the storm should expect to lose power.

Approximately 5,700 utility workers are standing by to restore service once Zeta clears the area, Edwards said.

“Obviously, we’re concerned about any power outages that might not be easily and quickly rectified and the impact that could have on the election next week,” Edwards said. “We’ve identified, in advance, all of the polling locations so power restoration efforts can be prioritized there so that we’ll have the election without any issues.”

More than 1,500 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been activated to provide logistical support and assist in search and rescue operations.

“It’s going to be a rough evening for Louisiana, particularly in the southeastern portion,” Edwards said. “I am confident we are well prepared for this storm.”

2 p.m.

Hurricane Zeta is expected to make landfall in Southeast Louisiana “in an hour or two,” according to a 2 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

Zeta has strengthened into a Category 2 storm with sustained maximum winds of 105 miles per hour, and is now expected to remain a Category 2 storm until landfall.

At 2 p.m., Zeta was located about 85 miles southwest of Grand Isle, Louisiana and about 125 miles south-southwest of New Orleans.

2 p.m.

Public schools will remain closed through at least Thursday, NOLA Public Schools announced Wednesday afternoon. Classes are canceled for all virtual and in-person students.

“The return to distance learning and in-person learning will be determined once the District can assess the aftermath of the storm,” district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo wrote in a release.

1 p.m.

Hurricane Zeta continues to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to make landfall in Southeast Louisiana this afternoon.

As of 1 p.m., the storm is about 135 miles from New Orleans and moving at about 20 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Maximum sustained winds are at 100 mph, with stronger gusts. Hurricane-force winds extend up to 35 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 150 miles out.

Officials have been hammering on Zeta's speed, and in it's own way, the NHC is, too.

"A faster north-northeastward motion is expected through tonight followed by an even faster northeastward motion on Thursday and an east-northeastward motion early Friday," it's 1 p.m. report says.

Zeta will move close to the Mississippi coast this evening and across the southeastern and eastern United States tomorrow.

Credit NOAA

11:30 a.m.

“This is not a drill," Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in an 11:30 a.m. press conference. "We’ve had many of them. It’s not a drill.”

Cantrell emphasized that Hurricane Zeta will be a wind event more than a rain event. Joining her, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Collin Arnold said sustained winds will be between 30 and 40 mph, with gusts from 80 to 95 mph, and urged people to be off the streets by 2 p.m., when the first effects are expected in the New Orleans area.

"As fast as it’s going to leave us, is as fast as it’s going to come to us," he said. 

Zeta is expected to come through the New Orleans area at 20 to 30 mph.

"It's coming fast, it's coming strong," Cantrell said.

Zeta is currently a Category 1 storm and Cantrell said it has the potential to hit New Orleans as a Category 2.

Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban said all 99 pumps are good to go but, same as yesterday, one of the turbines powering the city’s drainage pumps is out of service.

Ramsey Green, New Orleans' deputy CAO for infrastructure, said RTA service will end today at 1 p.m. Trash collection will start tomorrow at 8 a.m.

FEMA is expected to be on the ground tomorrow to assess the situation, Cantrell said.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell speaks about Hurricane Zeta at a press conference Wednesday morning. Oct., 28, 2020.
Credit Travis Lux / WWNO

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Evacuations are underway as coastal parishes prepare for Hurricane Zeta to make landfall. The storm is expected to bring 100 mph wind and storm surge of up to 6 feet.

In Terrebonne, people have left the lower parts of the parish and are evacuating to the Municipal Auditorium. Communications Director Mart Black says they’re as ready as they can be.

“We have done all we can do at this point — because this is about the sixth time we’ve done this season. We’ve pretty much done everything we think we can do.”

In Lafourche, Levee District Manager Windell Curole says it feels like groundhog’s day. “Every morning you wake up and the National Weather Service is telling you there’s a storm in the Gulf that’s going to cause you problems. That's what the last three months have been!”

He says as long as the forecasts are accurate, the levee system is prepared to withstand a 6-foot surge.

He says most people have evacuated, and the Lafourche Parish Recreation Center in Raceland is open for evacuees.

“Hopefully this thing is not as strong as they say, but we’re prepared in case it is,” he said. “This season we have been lucky on every storm. Why would it change now?”

11 a.m.

As Hurricane Zeta approaches New Orleans, classes have been canceled for all public school students, the district announced Wednesday.

Plans to suspend in-person instruction, announced Tuesday, originally gave schools the option to continue instruction online. By Wednesday morning, the district had amended its guidance.

“With Hurricane Zeta moving inland earlier in the day than expected, New Orleans Public Schools are instructed to end distance learning by noon today to allow our school community to prepare for storm impacts. The safety of our students, their families, teachers, and staff is our top priority,” district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo wrote in a release.

Zeta, which is currently a Category 1 hurricane, is expected to hit New Orleans Wednesday afternoon.

The district’s central office will not be staffed after noon today and meal pick-up for families has also been suspended.

Read more here.

10 a.m.

The 10 a.m. report from the National Hurricane Center says conditions are deteriorating along portions of the northern Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Zeta is about 235 miles from New Orleans and moving at about 18 mph, according to the NHC. Maximum sustained winds are still being clocked at about 90 mph.

7:30 a.m.

Hurricane Zeta reached Category 1 strength Tuesday night and is headed north across the Gulf of Mexico toward Southeast Louisiana Wednesday morning.

As of 7 a.m., the storm's maximum sustained winds had reached 90 mph and is showing signs of slowly strengthening, the National Hurricane Center reports. It's going to move north this morning before turning northeast toward New Orleans. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles.

A hurricane warning is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and the New Orleans metro area.

Credit NOAA

Life-threatening storm surge and winds are expected in Southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi. A storm surge warning is in effect from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre Florida, and for Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay The NHC predicts storm surge as high as 6 to 9 feet from the mouth of the Pearl River to Dauphin Island, Alabama.

A tropical storm warning is in effect from the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Walton-Bay County Line in Florida. A tropical storm watch is in effect west of Morgan City to Intracoastal City, Louisiana.

Here are the closures and evacuation orders ahead of Zeta

With Hurricane Zeta bearing down on Southeast Louisiana, several local parishes have suspended local services and issued voluntary and mandatory evacuations orders. Here’s a quick roundup.

Jefferson

Mandatory evacuations are in place for the following areas:

  • Grand Isle
  • Jean Lafitte
  • Lower Lafitte
  • Crown Point
  • Barataria

Jefferson Transit will suspend all services at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The last bus will leave Canal Street heading to the airport at 12:15 p.m.

Garbage and recycling collection will be suspended at noon Wednesday.

Orleans

A voluntary evacuation is in place for residents outside of levee protection (Irish Bayou, Venetian Isles and Lake Catherine).

Plaquemines

A voluntary evacuation order went into effect at 8 a.m. for the entire Eastbank and from Alliance to Venice on the Westbank.

A shelter will open 10 a.m. at the Plaquemines Parish Pavilion in Belle Chasse.

There are currently no plans to close the Highway 23 floodgate in Oakville, but the Flood Protection Authority-East is closing the Highway 39 floodgate at the Plaquemines-St. Bernard Parish line.

St. Bernard

SBURT bus service will be suspended at noon Wednesday and will resume Thursday morning.

Garbage collection is scheduled to continue as normal.

St. Tammany

STAR transit will suspend operations at noon Wednesday.

This story will be updated throughout the day as the situation develops.