State officials are warning residents along the coast to take Hurricane Nate seriously, urging evacuations and instituting a curfew.
"This is the most dangerous hurricane to hit Mississippi since Katrina, make no mistake," Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Lee Smithson said at a 1 p.m. press briefing.
He warned people to be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours. A 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew will be instituted in Jackson County, where the brunt of Nate is expected to make landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, bringing with it storm surges of up to 11 feet — much greater than previously expected.
Because Nate had been a tropical storm over the past two days, Smithson said many people had not been expressing much concern over its possible impact. However, its intensity grew quickly overnight and expectations of its impact have worsened.
"This is a very, very dangerous Category 2 hurricane that is going to make impact in the dead of night," Smithson said. "Everyone needs to understand ... that this is a significant situation."
Gov. Phil Bryant said the good weather along the Gulf Coast and the Cruisin' the Coast event also played a part in lulling people into a false sense of security. He said state and local first responders and emergency management personnel are continuing to work feverishly to warn people to be prepared for the storm.
Casinos and resorts along the Gulf Coast are closing at 5 p.m. All special events have been canceled, including the Beach Boys concert planned at the Beau Rivage Casino and Resort in Biloxi.
Bryant said 75 National Guardsmen have been called to duty on the coast, along with additional highway patrolmen and local law enforcement officers. The Mississippi Highway Patrol also is heavily patrolling interstates and highways leading from the coast as tourists evacuate after thousands crowded the area for the weeklong Cruisin' the Coast.
Bryant said he has assurance from FEMA that its officials are prepared to offer assistance despite being taxed with several other post-hurricane relief projects. But Bryant made clear that state and local officials are handling everything until Nate is gone.
"The first 72 hours is ours," he said. "Unfortunately, we know more about storms than about anyone in the nation because we've lived through so many of them."