Tropical storm Nicholas strengthened into a hurricane late on Monday, and is set to batter the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana with rising seawater and rains that could cause widespread and life-threatening flooding.
The hurricane, carrying winds of 120kph was about southwest of Freeport Texas, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a bulletin on Monday night.
Nicholas was bringing heavy rains, strong winds, and storm surges to portions of the central and upper Texas coasts, the center said.
“It will be a very slow-moving storm across the state of Texas that will linger for several days and drop a tremendous amount of rain,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday afternoon.
“People in the region need to be prepared for extreme high-water events.”
Abbott said he will declare states of emergency in 17 counties and three cities across coastal Texas, adding that boat and helicopter rescue teams have been deployed or placed on standby.
Rainfall totals of up to 16 inches and possibly 20 inches in some isolated areas were forecast for parts of Texas through Wednesday. As Nicholas moves northeast, it was expected to dump as much as 10 inches on parts of south central Louisiana and southern Mississippi through Thursday, the NHC said.
The National Weather Service issued storm surge, flood and tropical storm warnings and watches throughout the region, calling it a “life-threatening situation.”
Nicholas is the second hurricane in as many weeks to threaten the US Gulf Coast. Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc in late August, killing more than two dozen people as it devastated communities in Louisiana near New Orleans.
“We want to make sure that no one is caught off guard by this storm,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said at a news briefing on Monday afternoon. “Heavy rainfall will be the primary concern.”
Edwards warned that drainage systems still clogged with debris from Ida and other recent storms may not be able to handle the expected deluge of rainwater, causing flash flooding.
Teams of rescue workers with high-water vehicles and boats were prepared to respond to people trapped by flooding across southern Louisiana, Edwards said.
Nicholas could also knock out electricity and hamper restoration efforts as more than 119,000 homes and businesses remain without power from Ida, he said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged the city’s 2.3 million residents to stay at home starting on Monday evening.
Houston Independent School District canceled classes for Tuesday, while dozens of districts in Texas and Louisiana shut down on Monday.
Houston Metro was suspending light rail and bus services on Monday evening while hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed at airports in Corpus Christi and Houston.