Uncertainty surrounds TS Nate; state leaders urge residents to prepare

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - As Tropical Storm Nate moves closer to the Gulf Coast, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) has activated the State Emergency Operations Center, known as the EOC.

Governor John Bel Edwards and other state officials held a news conference Thursday evening to discuss preparations for the storm. Gov. Edwards told Louisiana residents to be wary of the storm even though it will most likely make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane. He also said Tropical Storm Nate has already claimed 17 lives when it was over land in the Central American countries of Nicaragua and Honduras.

The governor gave a stern warning to residents to "be where you want to be" by 8 p.m. Saturday, before the storm hits. The National Weather Service (NWS) says Tropical Storm Nate could strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall early Sunday. State officials expect a direct hit to Louisiana whenever the storm makes landfall. Gov. Edwards has already declared a state of emergency for Louisiana ahead of Nate and says he will ask President Donald Trump to approve a pre-landfall emergency declaration for the state.

"That's what's expected as of today, but as this storm moves across the Gulf, everyone should pay very close attention," said Edwards. "Anybody who's taking this storm lightly is making a serious mistake and I don't want to cause undue panic or alarm, but people need to be prepared for this."

His office has already deployed around 1,300 National Guardsman across the state. Fifteen additional guardsmen have been tasked with keeping an eye on pumps in New Orleans. Edwards says he does not believe the pumps there will not be able to withstand what Nate is currently expected to bring to the region; however, he says the forecast can change and residents should be ready.

The EOC will begin operating at its highest activation level, Level 1, at 6 a.m. on Friday. All state agencies, support organizations, and FEMA join in the response. GOHSEP will hold conference calls with parishes that will be potentially impacted by the storm through Thursday.

Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is monitoring the situation and working with GOHSEP officials. Mayor Broome has directed city-parish crews to start storm preparations by clearing drainage and removing debris around the parish.Crews are also readying operations for sand and sandbag deployment should that become necessary.

GOHSEP director, Jim Waskom, issued a warning for residents to be prepared and take the storm seriously:

"High water is already a problem in many southeast Louisiana parishes," said GOHSEP Director Jim Waskom.  "High tides and easterly winds in recent days are impacting some areas ahead of the storm. Those conditions may worsen over the weekend. Our window to prepare for Nate is closing quickly. Finalize your emergency plans. Check your emergency supplies. Be aware of potential road problems.  Monitor your local media and the National Weather Service for emergency notifications. Some evacuation orders are already being issued at the local level.  If you require special transportation or medical needs, check with your emergency managers for assistance."

Merri Alessi, executive director of the American Red Cross for the capital area, says the next few hours are crucial in getting a game plan together. "Don't be the last person in the grocery store to try and find a gallon of water, but do it now," said Alessi.

The idea is to plan for about three days, making sure to get enough food and water to last. "Have your non-perishable goods and have at least a battery-operated radio and spare batteries in case you need them," Alessi added. "Get those things together."

Alessi says it is also important to not forget about medicine and pets. She believes the sooner people start preparing, the better off they will be during the storm. "Be prepared. Hope for the best, but please plan," she said.

FEMA officials advise residents who are still living in Mobile Housing Units (MHU) or other temporary housing options due to the 2016 floods to move to a sturdier shelter in the event of a hurricane, tornado, or flood.

All residents should heed evacuation orders and monitor road conditions. Officials also advise residents to keep cell phones charged and near them during the threat of a hurricane in order to receive potential emergency messages.

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