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Zeta batters Southeast after swamping Gulf Coast; 6 dead

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zeta sped across the Southeast on Thursday, leaving a trail of damage and more than 2.6 million homes and businesses without power in Atlanta and beyond after pounding New Orleans with winds and water that splintered homes and were blamed for at least six deaths.

A Category 2 hurricane when it hit the southeastern Louisiana coast Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said Zeta weakened to a post-tropical storm by afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph about 25 miles southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The storm was still buffeting North Carolina and southeastern Virginia with gusty winds, but it was moving along at 53 mph, meaning no single place was blasted too long.

Some voting places were affected and hundreds of schools canceled classes or planned to open late across from the Gulf Coast to the Carolinas. Widespread power outages occurred across seven states from Louisiana to the south Atlantic seaboard. Some places could be in the dark for days.

The latest punch from a record hurricane season left people shaken. Will Arute said it sounded like a bomb went off when part of a large oak snapped outside his home in New Orleans, and crashed into his car and a corner of his home.

“I did not anticipate this to happen. It was pretty intense along the eye wall when it went through here,” he said.

Mackenzie Umanzor didn’t make many preparations because the last hurricane to threaten her home in D’Iberville, Mississippi, a few weeks ago did little damage. Zeta blew open doors she had tried to barricade, leaving her with a cut hand, and the top of her shed came loose.

“You could hear the tin roof waving in the wind. … And there was a couple of snaps, lots of cracks of branches and trees falling,” she said. “It was pretty scary.”

Officials said life-threatening conditions would last into the day, with Zeta crossing the mid-Atlantic states as a tropical storm before moving offshore around Delaware and southern New Jersey.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the most severe destruction — what he described as “catastrophic damage” — appears to be on the barrier island of Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish, where Zeta punched three breaches in the levee, the only levee failure from the storm in the state. Edwards says he ordered the Louisiana National Guard to fly in soldiers to assist with search and rescue efforts, including door-to-door checks on property.

The governor also urged people to be cautious during the recovery.

“Oddly enough, it isn’t the storms that typically produce the most injuries and the fatalities. It’s the cleanup efforts. It’s the use of generators. It’s the carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s the electrocution that comes from power lines. So, now is the time to be very, very cautious out there,” Edwards said Thursday.

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