Evacuations were ordered in vulnerable parts of the New Orleans region Friday as Hurricane Nate rushed north toward the Gulf Coast.

Nate also prompted Mayor Mitch Landrieu to announce a curfew starting at 7 p.m. Saturday — a few hours before the storm is expected to strike somewhere east of New Orleans as a Category 1 hurricane — and to say that crews would be shutting down underpasses vulnerable to flooding.

The New Orleans area was put under a hurricane warning Friday afternoon.

Hurricane-force winds and the possibility of a 6-foot to 9-foot storm surge were the top concerns of most officials Friday. Nate, moving at a fast 22 mph through the Gulf of Mexico, is expected to pass quickly through the New Orleans region without lingering to drop heavy rains on the area.

Rainfall totals are expected to be around 4 inches in New Orleans, with up to 6 inches in lower Plaquemines Parish and significantly higher amounts possible in pockets within the area.

“We have been through this many, many times. There is no need to panic,” Landrieu said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

He ordered a mandatory evacuation of the Lake Catherine, Venetian Isles and Irish Bayou areas of Orleans Parish, saying residents would have to leave those areas by noon Saturday.

The city will also be shutting down underpasses, including those that provide exits from major highways, early Saturday evening in expectation that those spots will flood.

A curfew will be in effect in New Orleans from 7 p.m. Saturday until Sunday morning, with exceptions for emergency responders and those traveling to and from work.

“If you don't have to be out, stay home and stay safe,” New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said.

Public transit will be suspended once winds reach 35 mph, and officials have warned that weather conditions will likely make it impossible to respond to emergency calls at some point during the storm.

The normal prohibition on parking on neutral grounds and sidewalks will be lifted at 8 a.m. Saturday so that residents can park their vehicles on higher ground, Landrieu said, though he warned against parking on  streetcar tracks.

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At a news conference Friday in Baton Rouge, Gov. John Bel Edwards encouraged people to be cautious during the storm and to stay put after 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Though the storm is moving quickly and has shifted eastward, the storm surge and winds could cause real danger, Edwards said. He added that the storm will be a "nighttime event," meaning it will be difficult to see the depth of water on the roads or the strength of the current.

"No one should take this storm lightly," he said. "As we know from past storms, low intensity does not necessarily mean low impact."

He advised people to get supplies early, monitor weather reports and follow directives from local authorities.

Grand Isle Mayor David Carmardelle called for a mandatory evacuation of that coastal island. Officials in the Town of Jean Lafitte also ordered a mandatory evacuation for that municipality.

Elsewhere in Jefferson Parish, Parish President Mike Yenni urged residents in Lower Barataria, Crown Point and other low-lying areas outside the levee system to evacuate.

Gretna is expected to institute a curfew as well, though officials did not say when it will begin.

In Plaquemines Parish, mandatory evacuations have been ordered for the entire east bank and any areas outside the levee system. A voluntary evacuation was called for residents on the west bank from the Oakville Floodgate to Venice.

Landrieu and other local officials sought to allay concerns about the Sewerage & Water Board’s drainage system, which has had problems in the major flood on Aug. 5 and as recently as Monday. Monday’s storm brought about as much rainfall as is expected during Nate.

“The forecast for rain in New Orleans is less than what they often receive in afternoon thunderstorms in the summertime,” Edwards said. “So while there might be some isolated areas of street flooding until the pumps can pump the water down, at this point, we don't see much happening beyond that in New Orleans.”

As of Friday, 109 of the S&WB’s 120 pumps were operational, and additional, temporary pumps powered by generators were being staged in some areas, said Paul Rainwater, a member of the interim management team in charge of the agency.

He said the utility has rigged up a system of colored lights at its central control room at the Carrollton plant to show which pumps are being used at any one time — something it hasn’t had in the past.

In response to a question about what areas should have particular concerns, Rainwater said it is difficult to predict because every storm is different. “The reality is you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You take the entire system and game it out and figure it out as best you can.”

Rainwater said he had confidence in the drainage system. But S&WB officials have acknowledged that the utility does not generate enough of its own power to turn on all the pumps at once.

Landrieu, who alternately described the drainage system as “the biggest and most robust in the world” and as decrepit and “in disrepair for a very long time,” stressed that both the pumps and the levee system were designed to reduce risk, not eliminate it.

“I don’t understand how people in this city have gotten it into their mind that they’re never going to get wet,” he said.

In response to a reporter who asked if Landrieu could guarantee the pumps will work, he said, “I can.”

But he added that the city and Entergy can’t promise that power won’t go out. Entergy has warned customers to be prepared for up to seven days without power.

Fifteen National Guard members are working with the S&WB as spotters to monitor flood levels, and another 350 are expected to be in the area by Saturday with high-water vehicles and boats. The Guard is also stationing supplies near the city.

City Hall will be closed on Saturday, which means it will not be open for the final day of early voting before the Oct. 14 primary. Early voting locations in New Orleans at the Algiers Courthouse, 225 Morgan St.; the voting machine warehouse at 8870 Chef Menteur Highway; and the Lake Vista Community Center, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd., will be open.

Although nearly all voting locations elsewhere in the state will remain open, Edwards asked early voters to cast ballots early in the day.

"If you're going to early vote tomorrow, early vote early. Don't early vote late," he said.

Staff writers Chad Calder and Faimon A. Roberts III contributed to this report.


Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​