NBC News- Hurricane Zeta made landfall in southeastern Louisiana as a powerful Category 2 storm on Wednesday afternoon before it was forecast to pass over the city of New Orleans.
The National Hurricane Center said that as of 5 pm E.T., Zeta was 65 miles south-southwest of New Orleans and moving at 24 mph.
In a Wednesday afternoon update, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said the storm's maximum sustained winds were expected to reach 110 mph, or "just a hair below Major Category 3 strength."
Tree and structural damage could be extensive from southeastern Louisiana to central Alabama, while coastal Mississippi could be swamped by a storm surge of as much as 10 feet, he said.
"Many of these locations will be without power for days and well past Election Day in some cases.
In an afternoon press conference, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged city residents to be at the site where they will ride out the storm by 2 p.m. Wednesday. "It's coming fast, it's coming strong," Cantrell said, adding that high sustained winds will be the most significant threat to the city. "Now is the time to prepare to get off the road."
Cantrell said that the hurricane could make landfall in the state as early as 2 p.m., with conditions worst between 5 and 8 p.m.
City officials said Zeta's quick march north-northeast means that the hurricane is expected to pass over the city by 9 to 11 p.m. and then sweep Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, all of which are forecast to receive significant rainfall on Thursday.
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority said that bus, ferry and streetcar service would be suspended at noon Wednesday.
Wary New Orleanians spent part of the day filling up sand bags and preparing to ride out the hurricane. Recalling the steady march of powerful storms over Louisiana since August — Zeta will be the fourth after Marco, Laura and Delta — one longtime resident, Derick Dinatto, said they had become a way of life.
“I lived in New Orleans since ’72,” he said, “but we’ve never had anything like before.”
Another resident, Darlene Hunter, described being mentally drained by the persistent possibility of immediate evacuation.
“When is it gonna stop?” she said. “I mean, when you wake up you don't know whether you're gonna wake up to a normal street or you're gonna wake up in a street full of water.” Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said that mandatory evacuations were ordered in some sections of three coastal parishes — Jefferson, Terrebonne and Lafourche.
While Zeta's storm surge wasn't expected to be as potentially destructive as the surge from earlier hurricanes, it could still reach eight feet in some coastal areas and five feet along Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans.
"Zeta is literally on our doorstep and the weather is degrading quickly as we speak," he said. In a tweet shared Wednesday afternoon, the International Space Station shared video of the storm from low-Earth orbit.
Zeta's eye formed overnight and, according to the 1 p.m. CT National Hurricane Center forecast, is currently 155 miles south-southwest of New Orleans, moving north at 20 mph. It has maximum sustained winds of 100 mph with stronger gusts.
Up to nine feet of coastal inundation is expected when Zeta's winds whip the Gulf of Mexico onto the low-lying land between the mouth of the Pearl River and Dauphin Island, Alabama.
NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said that Zeta's overnight shift put New Orleans into its forecast path.
"The fast forward speed will allow Zeta to reach New Orleans without losing much of its intensity," he said.
"Wind gusts of this strength will cause extensive damage to trees, windows and roofs," Karins said. "Tall buildings will be especially susceptible to broken windows and flying glass."
Hurricane warnings are in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, east to the Mississippi-Alabama border, and a storm surge warning is in effect from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana to Navarre, Florida.
"A storm surge of this height will cause extensive flooding of low-lying areas and damage structures that have not been raised," Karins said.