'Catastrophic:' Zeta Tears Through South Amid Record-Breaking Hurricane Season

Millions of people were without power and at least six were dead Thursday after Hurricane Zeta slammed into Louisiana and tore across the South, leaving shattered buildings, thousands of downed trees and fresh anguish over a record-setting hurricane season.

From the bayous of the Gulf Coast to Atlanta and beyond, Southerners were left to pick up the pieces once again.

As many as 2.6 million homes and businesses lost power across seven states, but the lights were coming back on slowly.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state sustained “catastrophic” damage on Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish, where Zeta punched three breaches in the levee.

Edwards ordered the Louisiana National Guard to assist with search and rescue efforts and urged continued caution.

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“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.

A Category 2 hurricane when it hit the southeastern Louisiana coast on Wednesday, Zeta weakened to a post-tropical storm by Thursday afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

The fast-moving storm was centered about 25 miles southwest of Cape May, New Jersey, and forecast to head east-northeast over the open Atlantic.

North Carolina and southeastern Virginia were still being buffeted with gusty winds, but Zeta was moving along at 53 mph, meaning no single place was blasted too long.

Still, the latest punch from this historically busy hurricane season left people shaken.

Will Arute of New Orleans said it sounded like a bomb went off when part of a large oak snapped outside and crashed into his car and a corner of his home.

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

A man was electrocuted in New Orleans, and four people died in Alabama and Georgia when trees fell on homes, authorities said. They included two people who were left pinned to their bed, Gwinnett County fire officials said.

And in Biloxi, Mississippi, Leslie Richardson, 58, drowned when he was trapped in rising seawater after taking video of the raging storm.

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Richardson and another man exited a floating car and desperately clung to a tree before his strength “just gave out,” Harrison County coroner Brian Switzer said.

Downed trees blocked lanes on two interstate highways in Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Transportation reported.

Small towns were hit, too.

Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville, Alabama, said hundreds of trees fell in roads and on homes, while some gas station canopies blew over.

“At one point, every major thoroughfare was blocked by trees,” Day said.

Hundreds of miles away in North Carolina, a highway was blocked by a toppled tree in Winston-Salem, and Wake Forest University canceled classes for the day.

Zeta was the 27th named storm of a historically busy year with more than a month left in the Atlantic hurricane season.

It set a new record as the 11th named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. in a single season.

With Election Day looming, far fewer early voters showed up after the storm in Pascagoula, Mississippi, a court clerk said, and power failures in two Georgia counties disrupted voting.

“We’re still assessing the situation and obviously some counties will be delaying early voting this morning, but we don’t see that there will be an overall impact on voting,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said.

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