Gulf Coast braces, again, for hurricane as Zeta takes aim

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Tourists walk on the beach as the tail end of Hurricane Zeta makes landfall in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, early Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Zeta is leaving Mexicos Yucatan Peninsula on a path that could hit New Orleans Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Tomas Stargardter)

CANCUN – Residents of the storm-pummeled Gulf Coast steeled themselves Tuesday for yet another tropical weather strike as Tropical Storm Zeta took aim at southeast Louisiana, fraying the nerves of evacuees from earlier storms and raising concerns in New Orleans about the low-lying city’s antiquated drainage pump system.

Zeta, the 27th named storm of a very busy Atlantic hurricane season, was a hurricane when it began raking across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula early Tuesday. It emerged in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm but was expected to regain hurricane strength before landfall south of New Orleans on Wednesday evening.

Already this year, Louisiana has been hit by two tropical storms and two hurricanes: Laura, blamed for at least 27 Louisiana deaths after it struck in August, and Delta, which exacerbated Laura’s damage in the same area weeks later. New Orleans has been in the warning area for potential tropical cyclones seven times this year but has seen them veer to the east or west.

“I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky with this one,” city emergency director Colin Arnold said at a news conference with Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he asked President Donald Trump to issue a disaster declaration ahead of the storm. Trump approved the declaration Tuesday evening.

One worry among New Orleans officials: a turbine that powers the city's street drainage pumps broke down Sunday, according to officials of the agency that runs the system. There was enough power to keep the pumps operating if needed, but it left authorities with little excess power to tap should a breakdown of other turbines occur.

Officials said they were running through contingencies to provide power and make repairs where needed should there be other equipment problems. Forecasts, meanwhile, called for anywhere from 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 centimeters) of rain in the New Orleans area. Officials noted that Zeta is expected to be a relatively fast-moving storm, minimizing the flood threat.

Zeta had sustained winds of 65 mph (105 kph) winds and was centered 410 miles (655 kilometers) south-southwest of the Mississippi River’s mouth Tuesday afternoon. Its approach toward New Orleans meant more worries for evacuees left homeless by Laura who are sheltered in hotels. The state is sheltering about 3,600 Laura and Delta evacuees, most of them in New Orleans area hotels.

“It really is scary, and I don’t know what to do,” said Yolanda Lockett, who evacuated her Lake Charles apartment — now a rain-soaked, moldy mess — ahead of Laura at the end of August. “I’m physically and mentally tired,” she said, standing outside a New Orleans hotel.