MANAGUA — Tropical Storm Nate, newly formed, was blamed Thursday for at least 22 deaths in Central America as it dumped rain across the region on a path that would carry it toward a potential landfall on the US Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend.
Officials in Louisiana ordered some people to evacuate from coastal areas and barrier islands, and evacuations began at some offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
The National Hurricane Center said that the storm could cause dangerous flooding by dumping as much as 15 to 20 inches of rain as it moved over Honduras, with higher accumulations in a few places.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour by Thursday afternoon and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea on Thursday night and Friday before a possible strike on the Cancun region at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at near-hurricane strength.
Louisiana officials ordered the evacuation of part of coastal St. Bernard Parish, east of New Orleans, ahead of the storm.
Earlier on Thursday, a voluntary evacuation was called for in the barrier island town of Grand Isle, south of New Orleans.
Officials in New Orleans, a city of nearly 400,000 residents, outlined steps to bolster the pump and drainage system. Weaknesses in that system were revealed during summer flash floods.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s New Orleans office said in a news release that as of midday Thursday, six production platforms — out of the 737 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico — had been evacuated.
No drilling rigs were evacuated, but one moveable rig was taken out of the storm’s path.
The agency estimated that less than 15 percent of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in, which equates to 254,607 barrels of oil per day.
In Nicaragua, Nate’s arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. The authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of the danger of flooding and landslides.
Nicaragua’s vice president and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 15 people had died in the country because of the storm. She did not give details on all of the deaths, but said that two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the municipality of Juigalpa in the central part of the country.
The government closed schools nationwide.
Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department blamed seven deaths in that country on the storm and said that 15 people were missing on Thursday. The flooding drove about 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.
The storm was centered about 40 miles west-southwest of Puerto Lempira, Honduras, and was moving north-northwest at nearly 10 miles per hour on Thursday.
The forecast track showed the storm could brush across the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula late Friday night and then hit the US Gulf Coast — with hurricane strength — by Sunday morning.
Forecasters said that hurricane conditions were possible in Mexico Friday night.
In the Pacific Ocean, former Tropical Storm Ramon dissipated off the southwestern coast of Mexico.
In Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Rossello said that power had been restored to 9 percent of customers since Hurricane Maria hit. The government’s hope is to have the power back on for a quarter of the island within a month’s time, and for the entire US commonwealth of 3.4 million people by March.