WASHINGTON - The U.S. National Hurricane Center said late Friday that Tropical Storm Nate is “almost a hurricane as it moves into the southern Gulf of Mexico” with maximum sustained winds of 110 kilometers per hour.
Nate claimed at least 20 lives as it moved across Central America.
At least 11 people were killed in Nicaragua and seven others were reported missing as thousands evacuated their homes due to flooding, Vice President Rosario Murillo said.
Two children were among the eight people killed in heavy rains in Costa Rica, according to emergency officials.
In Honduras, emergency officials said two youths drowned due to the sudden swell of a river and a man was killed in a mudslide in El Salvador.
The U.S. State Department said Friday evening in a statement: “We stand with the people of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras affected by Tropical Storm Nate, and offer our condolences to the loved ones of those killed in the storm ... We stand ready to provide assistance if needed.”
In the U.S., residents in parts of Louisiana’s coastal St. Bernard Parish, east of New Orleans, have been ordered to evacuate as the state prepares for Nate.
A state of emergency was declared for 29 Florida counties, Mississippi’s six southernmost counties, and New Orleans, where levees were breached during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, said Friday, “We have been through this many, many times. There is no need to panic.”
Even as Nate draws near, parts of the United States and its territories are struggling to recover from previous storms.
Vice President Mike Pence traveled Friday to Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria after a glancing blow from Hurricane Irma, and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, which was hit by both Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Some two weeks after the catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory is still reeling from the storm’s devastating effects. Governor Ricardo Rossello says just 8.6 percent of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority clients have their power restored; 365 of 1,619 telecommunication towers have been repaired, but landlines are functioning at 100 percent.
The Florida Keys, devastated by Hurricane Irma last month, have reopened just in time for prime tourist season. The keys, which stretch about 200 kilometers off Florida’s southern tip, were closed after Irma made landfall Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm.
Texas lawmakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott, urged Congress to approve an additional $18.7 billion in funding for relief and recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey, which damaged or destroyed thousands of homes after coming ashore as a Category 4 storm. The request came a day after the Trump administration sent Congress a proposal for $29 billion in disaster aid to Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and Louisiana in the aftermath of the recent storms.
Wayne Lee and Smita Nordwall contributed to this report.