(CNN) — Nate has strengthened into a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said.
Hurricane Nate has sustained winds of 75 mph and is located 495 mi south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, in the southern Gulf of Mexico.
States from Louisiana to Florida braced Friday for Nate, forecast to pound the Gulf Coast this weekend as a hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center on Friday upgraded the tropical storm warning for New Orleans to a hurricane warning. It extends from New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain and Grand Island, Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama-Florida border.
The storm is expected to make landfall around midnight Saturday east of New Orleans, which was devastated 12 years ago by Hurricane Katrina. It would be the third hurricane, after Harvey and Irma, to hit the US mainland in six weeks.
A storm surge warning was put in place from Morgan City to the western part of the Florida Panhandle, as well as along the northern and western shores of Lake Pontchartrain.
“Residents in these areas should heed any evacuation instructions given by local officials,” the hurricane center said.
Nate killed at least 24 people as it passed Thursday over Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, where it caused widespread flash flooding and mudslides, officials said.
The storm is forecast to gain strength as it moves across the Gulf of Mexico Friday night into Saturday and become a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf Coast, the hurricane center said.
Nate packed maximum sustained winds of 70 mph Friday night and was moving north-northwest at 22 mph, the hurricane center said. It was about 500 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
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