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Two dead after Zeta hammers New Orleans, roars toward Alabama

One person was electrocuted in Louisiana and hundreds of thousands are without power as the storm made its way toward Mississippi.
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Two people are dead after Hurricane Zeta made landfall in southeastern Louisiana as a powerful Category 2 storm Wednesday afternoon before passing over New Orleans.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city had made it through the fast-moving hurricane. But, she added, "We have been damaged. We have been hit."

One person was electrocuted in the Gert Town section of the city after touching a power line, the mayor told reporters Wednesday night. It wasn't clear how much damage the city suffered, Cantrell said, but she urged residents not to clean up the mess themselves.

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"Please leave it up to public safety officials," she said.

Police in Mississippi are blaming the storm for the death of a man who was found Wednesday in a Bioloxi marina.

The National Weather Service said that the eye of Zeta — which measured roughly 14 miles — began moving over New Orleans at 6:51 p.m. ET.

Video from the region showed Zeta's powerful winds ferrying a boat down an empty street and blasting a portable toilet through an empty lot.

Other clips showed decimated buildings and damaged power lines, toppled trees and a flooded casino.

In Jefferson Parish, near New Orleans, parish president Cynthia Lee Sheng said that nearly 167,000 customers — or 75 percent of the area — were without power.

A levee on the barrier island of Grand Isle had been breached in three places, she said, and a casino boat in the community of Lafitte had broken loose from a dry dock and ended up in the Barataria Bay Waterway.

"All should stay home and off the streets tonight, as there are multiple downed power lines and debris throughout the parish," she said., which tracks electrical outages across the United States, reported that nearly 500,000 customers in southeastern Louisiana were without power Wednesday night.

In southern Mississippi, another 116,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity, according to the site.

The National Hurricane Center said late Wednesday that Zeta had weakened to a tropical storm as it moved east over Mississippi and Alabama, though it was still producing life-threatening storm surge and maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.

As of 12 a.m. Thursday, Zeta was about 60 miles southwest of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the center said.

As Zeta made landfall in southeast Louisiana, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said the storm's maximum sustained winds were expected to reach 110 mph, or "just a hair below Major Category 3 strength."

Tree and structural damage could be extensive from southeastern Louisiana to central Alabama, while coastal Mississippi could be swamped by a storm surge of as much as 10 feet, he said.

"Many of these locations will be without power for days and well past election day in some cases," he said.

Earlier, Cantrell urged city residents to hunker down, telling them "it's coming fast, it's coming strong."

The city's transit authority suspended bus, ferry and streetcar service, and wary New Orleanians spent part of the day filling up sand bags and preparing to ride out the hurricane.

Recalling the steady march of powerful storms over Louisiana since August — Zeta will be the fourth after Marco, Laura and Delta — one longtime resident, Derick Dinatto, said they had become a way of life.

“I lived in New Orleans since ’72,” he said, “but we’ve never had anything like before.”

Another resident, Darlene Hunter, described being mentally drained by the persistent possibility of immediate evacuation.

“When is it gonna stop?” she said. “I mean, when you wake up you don't know whether you're gonna wake up to a normal street or you're gonna wake up in a street full of water.”

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said that mandatory evacuations were ordered in some sections of three coastal parishes — Jefferson, Terrebonne and Lafourche.

While Zeta's storm surge wasn't expected to be as potentially destructive as the surge from earlier hurricanes, it could still reach eight feet in some coastal areas and five feet along Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans, he said.

Philip Klotzbach, an atmospheric science researcher at Colorado State University, said that Zeta was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States this late in the year since 1899, when another storm with 110 mph winds struck South Carolina.