Nate Friday 4 p.m.

Image via National Hurricane Center

After a shift east early Friday, Tropical Storm's Nate's latest track has it projected to continue toward New Orleans as the system approaches the Gulf of Mexico.  

Nate gained force as it sped toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Friday after drenching Central America in rain that was blamed for at least 21 deaths. Forecasters reported winds of up to 60 mph as of 4 p.m. Friday, and predicted strengthening as it approaches the Gulf Coast.

New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain are under a hurricane warning, along with much of the Gulf Coast, where tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the coast by late Saturday. 

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Louisiana and Mississippi officials declared states of emergency ahead of the storm, and the towns of Jean Lafitte and Grand Isle have ordered mandatory evacuations. The city of Gretna and New Orleans have instituted curfews ahead of the storm.  

The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that Nate could raise sea levels by 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 meters) from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. It had already had caused deadly flooding in much of Central America.

The center of Nate, tracking at 21 mph, was projected to move across the northwestern Caribbean Sea today and move over the the northeastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula by Friday evening. The system will then move in the Southern Gulf of Mexico by Saturday morning, reaching the northern Gulf Coast by as early as Saturday night.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has also mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 headed to New Orleans to monitor the fragile pumping system.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and interim S&WB director Paul Rainwater said on Thursday that 108 of the system's 120 pumps are currently online, and three of the city's five power turbines are active. Those numbers are increased from the July and August storms.

“We're not where we want to be with our pumping capacity, but we're better than we were,” Councilman Jason Williams said during the briefing.

officials added that the pumps would be manned 24/7, and that members of the Louisiana National Guard would be on hand to provide help and information.

Edwards urged residents to ready for rainfall, storm surge and severe winds — and to be where they intend to hunker down by "dark on Saturday."

Edwards said Nate is forecast to move quickly, rather than stall and drop tremendous amounts of rain on the state. State officials hope that means New Orleans won't run into problems with its pumps being able to handle the water.

Edwards warned, however, against underestimating the storm.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from Grand Isle, Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border.

New Orleans officials outlined steps to bolster the city's pump and drainage system. Weaknesses in that system were revealed during summer flash floods.

In Nicaragua, Nate's arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.

Nicaragua's vice president and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 11 people had died in that country due to the storm. Earlier Thursday she had said 15 people had died before later revising to say some of those were still counted as missing. She didn't give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.

Costa Rica's Judicial Investigation Organism blamed seven deaths in that country on the storm and said 15 people were missing. Flooding drove 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.

In Honduras, there were three dead and three missing, according to Oscar Triminio, spokesman for the country's firefighters.

Damage caused by the storm prompted Costa Rican officials to postpone a World Cup qualifying soccer match between that country and Honduras, which had been scheduled for Friday night.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement's New Orleans office said in a news release that as of midday Thursday, six production platforms, out of the 737 manned platforms in the Gulf, had been evacuated. No drilling rigs were evacuated, but one moveable rig was taken out of the storm's path.

The agency estimated less than 15 percent of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in, which equates to 254,607 barrels of oil per day.