Nate slams Mississippi as the 4th hurricane in an extraordinary year to make landfall in the U.S.
Nate made landfall as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph and, though downgraded, remains a sloppy-wet storm that is expected to deliver 3 to 6 inches of rain to Tennessee and the southern Appalachians. It is the fourth hurricane to make landfall this year in the United States in what has been an extraordinary season for tropical cyclones.
Nate did not deliver a disastrous punch, in part because it steered clear of New Orleans, which is highly vulnerable to heavy downpours because of its low elevation and an antiquated pumping system that needs repairs. But Biloxi, Miss., and nearby communities took a serious thrashing.
There have been no reports of deaths or extreme property damage, though some 40,000 people in Mississippi lost power, according to Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). The casinos of Biloxi suffered flooding from the storm surge, vividly captured in images posted by storm chasers on social media.
Local media reported extensive damage to the Biloxi Lighthouse Pier. Coastal roads in the region suffered damage but were reopening steadily Sunday morning as the floodwaters receded. When Jackson County, Miss., lifted its curfew at 7 a.m., it instructed citizens to stay off the roads, including the flooded, sand-covered U.S. Route 90, which runs along the coast and crosses Biloxi Bay.
“As always, we’re grateful for things great and small, and with this storm, it could have been a lot worse,” Gulfport, Miss., Mayor Billy Hewes said in a video message posted Sunday morning on Facebook.
Storm surge as high as 11 feet struck the coast of Mississippi, but mitigation efforts since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made a radical difference and limited property damage, said Flynn, the MEMA spokesman. He cited new seawalls, a fortification of Route 90 along the beachfront and building codes that elevated homes vulnerable to storm surge.
“People will say we dodged a bullet, but that’s not right. We took a hit, and it just goes to show if you spend money on mitigation on the front end, it will save you money on the back end,” Flynn said. “Everything we have is now almost 20 feet in the air off the ground. People will look at happened in Mississippi last night and say Nate wasn’t that bad. But had Nate hit us before Katrina, we would have seen widespread damage.”
In coastal Alabama, streets in Bayou La Batre were littered with tree debris Sunday morning, and many yards had standing tidewater and marsh grass, but the power was on. Locals packed into a Waffle House that had remained open through the storm and compared their experiences.
Waiting in line with his grandson, resident Paul Brown said he lost power about 1 a.m. and finished out the night using his generator. But when sunlight came, he found that his home, which was damaged heavily during Hurricane Katrina, was spared this time.
“We did fine, no problems at all,” he said.
Bruce Blythe and his girlfriend, Gail Summerford, had planned to ride out the storm at their home on Dauphin Island but evacuated north to Bayou La Batre on a neighbor’s suggestion. They won’t be able to return home until an access road to the island reopens.
“I’m no hurricane expert, but I think this was just a baby hurricane,” said Blythe, who moved to the area from California in July.