‘Catastrophic’ Zeta leaves several states in ruins after lightning-quick rampage

‘Catastrophic’ Zeta leaves several states in ruins after lightning-quick rampage

Mother Nature wasn’t going to let New Orleans off the hook. Despite one of the busiest Atlantic tropical seasons on record, the city had largely been spared by storms throughout the summer and fall.

Until Hurricane Zeta, that is.

Hurricane Zeta struck southeast Louisiana with Category 2 force before weakening to a strong tropical storm as it cut through Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas with deadly impacts. With a shocking forward speed, Zeta spread downpours through a slicing path of the Southeast, and then up through the mid-Atlantic.

At least six fatalities can be connected with Zeta’s impacts in the United States, the first of which came in New Orleans when a man touched a live wire. In the storm’s aftermath, Mayor Latoya Cantrell urged city residents to stay indoors and allow city officials to assess the damage themselves.

“We do not want to lose another life,” she said. “Please do not assess any damage. Leave it up to public safety officials.”

In Mississippi, another man was killed by rising floodwaters while trying to film the storm. The other four deaths occurred in Georgia and Alabama as a result of trees falling on homes. Gwinnett County fire officials said three of those victims came from the northern Georgia county.

A downed tree blocks a street Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Decatur, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, after the passage of Hurricane Zeta. Trees in several areas in and around Atlanta lay broken or resting on sagging power and communication lines, some of which snapped telephone poles. Handwritten warning signs were taped to upside-down garbage cans in the middle of one street, while police were out stringing up yellow caution tape on others. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)

The death toll could have continued rising on Thursday if not for the valiant efforts of Atlanta fire crews. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, crews rescued at least four families after trees fell on homes or vehicles, including one man from his third-floor bedroom.

In North Carolina, wind gusts of up to 50 mph were recorded in areas such as Burlington and Greensboro, according to ABC11, located nearly 900 miles away from the spot of landfall. President Donald Trump had previously planned on holding a rally in Fayetteville but was forced to postpone due to a wind advisory.

Near the area of landfall, AccuWeather National Reporter Jonathan Petramala reported from Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana, on Thursday, just 20 miles north of where Zeta touched down in Cocodrie with 110-mph winds.

David Lajaunie returned to his home after the storm expecting to see things in “a whole lot” shape, he told Petramala.

“We’ll get the roof fixed and we’ll continue on, just waiting for the next one I guess,” he said in his home. “This is paradise down here, that’s why we live here.”

Drone footage from Brandon Clement captured the widespread damage left behind from the intense storm surge and winds that nearly reached major hurricane status. In all, AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers estimated a total of $4 to $5 billion of damage from the 27th-named storm of the year.

“Our estimate of the economic damage caused by the storm is primarily due to powerful storm surge, damaging winds, downed trees and outages that initially left over 2 million customers without power and more than 1.5 million still without power Friday morning,” Myers said. “In addition to the costs of power outages, we factor into our estimate damage to homes and business as well as their contents and cars, jobs and wage losses, food spoilage, agricultural losses, infrastructure damage, damage to businesses and their buildings and contents to businesses and residents.”

Historically, Zeta also gave the record books a page full of fresh ink. Here’s a few of the most memorable takeaways from the season’s latest storm:

Key figures

  • 48 mph: At 48 mph, Zeta’s northeastward pace through the Southeast set a record for fastest-moving systems in the U.S.

  • Fifth: Zeta was the fifth named storm to make landfall in Louisiana this year, a new record for the state, beating the previous high from 2002.

  • Sixth: Zeta also became the sixth hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. this year, tying 2020’s total with 1886 and 1985 for most landfalling hurricanes in a single season.

  • 11th: Including non-hurricanes, Zeta was the 11th named storm system of the season to make landfall in the U.S., but the active 2020 season already broke that record, previously set in 1916, with Hurricane Epsilon.

But while the Hurricane Zeta page on Wikipedia may be updated with all of its historical noteworthiness, it may be several days before millions of power customers in the Southeast find themselves back online. At one point, over 2 million people from Louisiana to North Carolina were without power, including over 1 million in Georgia alone.

As of early Saturday morning, over 780,000 residents in the states of Zeta’s track are still in the dark.

With cleanup from the storm expected to last days if not weeks, state officials have asked residents to be patient with how long the process may take.

“Zeta gave us a real pounding, and many areas are just beginning the clean up process,” said Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne, according to ALJournal.com. “The storm had an especially serious impact in north Mobile County, Washington County, and Clarke County. My staff and I stand ready to assist our city, county, and state partners to ensure folks get the help they need to clean up and rebuild.”

In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves told reporters that he was confident that the storm would warrant a federal disaster, a declaration that was approved by President Trump. The storm marks the state’s 10th federal disaster this year, more than any other year in the last 50 years, according to WMC5.

While assessing his state’s damage on Thursday and Friday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called the destruction dealt to his storm-weary state as “catastrophic” in a Friday morning news briefing.

“Our heart breaks because this has been a tough, tough year,” he said.

By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather Staff Writer – October 30th, 2020