Hurricane Nate made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River Saturday evening as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center said that Nate was expected to make a second landfall along the coast of Mississippi later Saturday night and then pass over parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. The storm had weakened slightly and was moving north at 20 mph.
Cities along the Mississippi coast such as Gulfport and Biloxi were on high alert. Some beachfront hotels and casinos were evacuated. Rain began falling on the region Saturday and forecasters called for 3 to 6 inches with as much as 10 inches in some isolated places.
Nate was expected to pass to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. Mayor Mitch Landrieu lifted a 7 p.m. curfew approximately 90 minutes after it took effect, but warned residents to "shelter in place and use caution due to strong tropical force winds."
Waterside sections of New Orleans, outside the city's levee system, were under an evacuation order. About 2,000 people were affected. But not everyone was complying.
Gabriel Black stayed behind because an 81-year-old neighbor refused to leave.
"I know it sounds insane, but he has bad legs and he doesn't have anybody who can get to him," Black said.
Storm surge threatened low-lying communities in southeast Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama fishing village of Bayou la Batre.
"If it floods again, this will be it. I can't live on promises," said Larry Bertron as said as he and his wife prepared to leave their home in the Braithwaite community of vulnerable Plaquemines Parish. The hurricane veterans lost one home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and were leaving the home they rebuilt after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency. The three states have been mostly spared during this hectic hurricane season.
"This is the worst hurricane that has impacted Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina," Mississippi Emergency Management Director Lee Smithson said Saturday. "Everyone needs to understand that, that this is a significantly dangerous situation."
Officials rescued five people from two sailboats in choppy waters before the storm. One 41-foot sailboat lost its engine in Lake Pontchartrain and two sailors were saved. Another boat hit rocks in the Mississippi Sound and three people had to be plucked from the water.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents to make final preparations quickly and stressed that Nate will bring the possibility of storm surge reaching up to 11 feet in some coastal areas.
"It's going to hit and move through our area at a relatively fast rate, limiting the amount of time it's going to drop rain," Edwards said. "But this is a very dangerous storm nonetheless."
On Alabama's Dauphin Island, water washed over the road Saturday on the island's low-lying west end, said Mayor Jeff Collier. The storm was projected to bring storm surges from seven to 11 feet near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Some of the biggest impacts could be at the top of funnel-shaped Mobile Bay.
The window for preparing "is quickly closing," Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents of the Panhandle to prepare for Nate's impact.
"Hurricane Nate is expected to bring life-threatening storm surges, strong winds and tornados that could reach across the Panhandle," Scott said. The evacuations affect roughly 100,000 residents in the western Panhandle.
The Pensacola International Airport announced it will close at 6 p.m. Saturday and remain closed on Sunday. However, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was open Saturday.
At 8 p.m. EDT Saturday, Nate was about 10 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm is expected to quickly weaken as it cuts a path through the Southeast on its way to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, which could see impacts from Nate early next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.