NO.nate.10081.0031.JPG

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, center, acknowledges the sunny weather the morning after Hurricane Nate passed through the area while giving a press conference about the city's response to the weather in front of City Hall in New Orleans, La., Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. Aaron Miller, left, the New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director also gave an update.

Advocate staff photo by MAX BECHERER

After two days of fearing it might be in the storm's cross-hairs, New Orleans escaped the brunt of Hurricane Nate and returned to normal operations Sunday, as residents awoke to sunny skies and few signs of a storm that will be remembered more for its bark than its bite.

Across the region, authorities had not received reports of any significant damage — a welcome result for communities that had braced for dangerous winds and storm surge. Some low-lying areas had been evacuated ahead of Nate, a fast-moving storm that at one point packed winds of more than 90 mph.    

"We prepared for a major fight, but we were fortunate," said Tim Kerner, the mayor of Jean Lafitte, in coastal Jefferson Parish. "We didn't get any wind and we didn't get any rain and we didn't get any water. There wasn't even enough rain to kick the pumps on." 

In New Orleans, which received just an inch of rain, the National Guard stood down early Sunday and the Regional Transit Authority restored regular bus and later streetcar service. The Coast Guard reopened the Port of New Orleans, and officials announced that schools would resume classes Monday. 

Mayor Mitch Landrieu defended his decision to order a 7 p.m. curfew on Saturday — it was lifted about 8:30 p.m. — saying he was "much more worried about life safety issues" than inconvenience. The curfew prompted many businesses and restaurants to close their doors and caused the cancellation of musical acts in the French Quarter and elsewhere. 

"I joke about this, but unless you get it absolutely perfect, you don't get any of it right," Landrieu said at a news conference Sunday morning in front of City Hall. "And so people will always second-guess this work. But I feel 100 percent confident in the decisions that we made, given the threats that were standing in front of us."

Can't see video below? Click here

 

The city had been prepared for a Category 2 storm, and it was particularly on edge after a rainstorm this summer exposed problems with the drainage system. Residents were urged to stay off the road, and the Police Department warned that it would enforce the curfew from 7 p.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. Sunday, when the worst of the weather was expected.  

But Nate veered to the east and, after making initial landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River, came ashore near Biloxi, Mississippi, as a weakened Category 1 hurricane, causing flooding and power outages in Mississippi and Alabama. The system was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm and then a tropical depression as it hurtled northward. 

On Sunday, there were few signs across southeastern Louisiana that a hurricane had  passed nearby, even in the state's most vulnerable jurisdictions.  

"There was minimal damage to property," said Guy McInnis, the St. Bernard Parish president. Officials there received some reports of flooding outside of the parish's levee system, but no reports of homes taking on water, he said.   

Gov. John Bel Edwards, who declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm, said Sunday that the state had been "largely spared" major damage. "Hurricane Nate had the potential to wreak havoc on Louisiana," the governor said. "A shift of a mere 50 miles to the west would have brought damaging winds and life-threatening storm surges."   

In Plaquemines Parish, a 70-year-old woman went into cardiac arrest at an evacuation shelter and was later pronounced dead at a hospital, said Amos Cormier III, the parish president. Cormier said he believed the stress of evacuating contributed to the woman's death. He said she lived on the east bank of the parish.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family," he said. 

Cormier said Nate also caused some damage to the Empire Locks floodgate. "Naturally there's some debris as well," he added, "but for the most part, thanks be to God that we were spared."  

New Orleans found itself on the dry side of the fast-moving system. "Rainfall was not a big issue," said Danielle Manning, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Slidell. 

Landrieu said there was still some standing water in Venetian Isles, outside of the levee system, early Sunday, but that water was expected to recede within hours. 

The mayor thanked first responders for their "tremendous work," adding that officials in neighboring parishes had been in close communication as the storm approached. "I think you saw a team of people on the federal, state and local level get in a position of preparedness that I think is very, very admirable," Landrieu said. 

Many revelers and some businesses disregarded the curfew, but Landrieu said the city did not issue any citations or make any arrests related to those violations.

"We followed the protocols to a T," he said of the storm preparations. "One of the things that the public has a hard time understanding is the amount of time it takes actually to ramp up, and the kind of harm that can be caused if they're out when something untoward happens."

In St. Tammany Parish, officials asked residents to continuing monitoring road conditions, as there were scattered reports of water on the roadways. Officials there distributed more than 55,000 sandbags over a two-day period and opened two shelters. 

"Our residents worked with one another, and they worked with us to remain safe as we watched the unpredictable path of this late-season storm," Pat Brister, the parish president, said. 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.