Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Tropical Storm Nate killed at least 22 people in Central America before it returned to the Caribbean Sea -- strengthening and taking aim at the United States Gulf Coast.
The storm passed through Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras late Thursday and early Friday, with heavy rain and winds. Swollen rivers caused mudslides and flooding, roads were blocked with debris, bridges were destroyed and homes were damaged.
At least 20 people are missing, authorities said; thousands slept in shelters in Costa Rica and nearly 400,000 people are without clean water. All three countries declared states of emergency.
All train travel was in Costa Rica was canceled, as were some flights. More than a dozen of the country's national parks were closed. Eight people were confirmed dead there, along with 11 in Nicaragua and three in Honduras. Another person died in a mudslide in neighboring El Salvador, emergency services reported.
After the storm hit Central America, it moved north into the Caribbean and is expected to strengthen near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before it approaches the U.S. Gulf states of Mississippi and Louisiana.
Forecasters say Nate will be a hurricane by the weekend when it nears the United States. It is currently aimed at New Orleans, prompting Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to declare a state of emergency. A hurricane watch -- the second-highest alert -- has been issued for the New Orleans metro area. Storm surge watches are in effect from southeastern Louisiana to southern Alabama.
"Everyone in South Louisiana should be preparing for this storm now. Anyone who's taken this storm lightly is making a serious mistake." Edwards said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu also declared a state of emergency in his city and warned of power outages potentially lasting up to seven days -- similar to what Florida saw following Hurricane Irma last month.
Oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have already been evacuated.
The National Hurricane Center said September was the most active month on record for hurricanes, with four tropical storms becoming hurricanes. Three -- Harvey, Irma and Maria -- became major hurricanes, Category 3 or higher, and caused substantial damage.