Nate could hit US as Category 2 hurricane

Strengthening Hurricane Nate is now expected to be a Category 2 hurricane at landfall on the central Gulf Coast in coming hours.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says Nate's top sustained winds have recently risen to 90 mph (150 kph) and the core is now about 180 miles (285 kilometers) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

As of 10 a.m. CDT Saturday, Nate was accelerating to 26 mph (43 kph) and headed north-northwest on a course expected to take it onto the central Gulf Coast on Saturday night. Forecasters say the hurricane-force winds extend out up to 35 miles (55 kph), mainly to the east of the eye.

In addition to hurricane warnings and tropical storm warnings already in place along a wide stretch of Gulf Coast, a new tropical storm warning has been issued in the Florida Panhandle from east of the Okaloosa-Walton County line to Indian Pass, Florida.

Some oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are being shut down as Hurricane Nate churns toward the U.S. mainland.

Federal officials said Friday that workers were evacuated from 66 oil- and gas-producing platforms in the Gulf, about 9 percent of the total of manned facilities.

The Interior Department says crews also have been taken off five drilling rigs and other rigs have been moved out of the storm's path.

About one-fifth of U.S. oil is produced in the Gulf. The platforms mostly avoided Hurricane Harvey in late August.

Nate is speeding north-northwest over the central Gulf of Mexico as a Category 1 hurricane. Forecasters say the hurricane is expected to make landfall Saturday night along the central U.S. Gulf Coast.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says President Donald Trump has approved a pre-disaster emergency declaration for 17 parishes.

Edwards said Saturday morning he spoke with Trump as Hurricane Nate headed for the Gulf Coast.

Nate's forecast track would take it past the southeastern tip of Louisiana Saturday evening, heading for a landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But forecasters warned people from eastern Louisiana and into Alabama to be on alert for the storm's effects.

Louisana's Lafourche (lah_FOOSH') Parish is the latest to order a mandatory evacuation. Officials there ordered a mandatory evacuation of part of the town of Golden Meadow Saturday morning.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced the opening of shelters on the coast Saturday. Alabama also was opening shelters for coastal residents.