Rescue and emergency teams are sorting through the damage wrought by Hurricane Zeta, which made landfall in Louisiana as a very strong Category 2 storm Wednesday afternoon. Zeta brought powerful winds to much of the southeast, where more than 2 million power customers are now without electricity.
The hurricane struck Louisiana’s coast with winds of 110 mph, arriving Wednesday afternoon near Cocodrie, in Terrebonne Parish. Its eye then pushed inland over New Orleans and neighboring areas before rushing on to Mississippi and nearby states.
At least six deaths are blamed on the storm, according to The Associated Press. The number includes four people killed by falling trees in Alabama and Georgia, a man who drowned in Mississippi and another man who was electrocuted by live power lines.
In Louisiana, Zeta toppled massive oak trees into houses and downed power lines. It also caused several breaches in the “burrito levee” in Grand Isle, in Jefferson Parish. The parish has canceled school through Friday because of damage from the storm.
“It appears that the most catastrophic damage was in the Grand Isle area,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday morning, as crews took advantage of the daylight to assess the worst-hit areas.
Power outages also contributed to at least one car crash, when two vehicles collided at an intersection where the traffic signals were dark in Slidell, La., police said.
Because of the storm’s rapid forward motion — it made landfall traveling at 24 mph — its heavy rains did not trigger the type of perilous inland flooding that other recent storms have brought.
“The flood damage that we had really came from surge right along the coast,” Edwards said.
— Councilman Scott Walker (@ScottWalkerJP) October 29, 2020
Most of the power outages are in Georgia, where 677,842 customers lost electricity, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us. Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina each saw more than 400,000 accounts go dark, along with more than 200,000 in Mississippi and 150,000 in South Carolina.
The power outages are complicating election plans, bringing hazardous conditions for people waiting in lines to vote early and knocking out power at polling places.
In Georgia, people in 16 counties found their polling sites without power, according to Emil Moffatt of NPR member station WABE in Atlanta. Officials say they’re prioritizing turning the lights back on at those sites.
“Elections officials say at least one county in northeast Georgia won’t open at all Thursday, leaving just one final day there for early in-person voting,” Moffatt says.
Edwards said 1,940 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been activated to help Louisiana’s disaster and emergency response. He also said more than 3,000 people are in shelters — most of them were already displaced by earlier storms in what has been a catastrophic hurricane season for the Gulf Coast.
“Urban search-and-rescue operations are underway across the damaged area,” Edwards said in a briefing after surveying affected areas Thursday afternoon.
Hurricane Zeta has caused three major breaches in Grand Isle’s ‘burrito levee’ 🌀 pic.twitter.com/VgQDeYyuSB
— Jefferson Parish (@JeffParishGov) October 28, 2020
Zeta is now a tropical depression, the National Hurricane Center said early Thursday afternoon. But the storm is still bringing strong wind gusts to North Carolina and Virginia, and some tornadoes could form in those states this afternoon, the center added.
Tropical Storm #Zeta is racing northeastward across North Carolina at about 40 mph. Damaging wind gusts will continue to spread across parts of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia through this afternoon. You can find your local @NWS forecast at https://t.co/URHWwoO6rp. pic.twitter.com/GJDMfz5eJw
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 29, 2020
Zeta is still carrying sustained winds of 50 mph as it crosses over southern Virginia, the NHC said. Nearly 24 hours after making landfall on the Gulf Coast, the storm was racing across the southeastern U.S. at 53 mph, the hurricane center said in its 2 p.m. ET update.
“An even faster motion toward the east-northeast is expected tonight and on Friday,” the center said.