At least three deaths have been reported so far after the Category 2 storm made landfall on the southeastern coast of Louisiana. One person died from electrocution after touching a downed power line in New Orleans, and another was killed when a large tree uprooted and fell through the corner of a mobile home in Acworth, Georgia.
Officials in the Gulf Coast made repeated calls Wednesday night for residents to stay inside after the storm passed and not go outside in the dark to assess damage.
In the Mississippi city of Waveland, Mayor Mike Smith told local media that he was expecting to see a lot of damage in the morning. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards was expected Thursday to tour the coastal regions hardest hit by the storm.
Zeta is moving northeast at 39 miles per hour. It's bringing gusty winds and heavy rain to the southeast Thursday. As of 5 a.m. EST, the storm is 65 miles west-northwest of Atlanta with sustained winds of 60 mph.
Click here for the latest weather forecast.
The storm is expected to pass through North Carolina and into Virginia from about 7 a.m. - 12 p.m. The entire system should move out to sea by Thursday night.
The bulk of the rain remaining from Zeta will fall in the North Carolina-Tennessee mountains as well as in Blacksburg and Roanoke, Virginia.
On Wednesday, then-hurricane Zeta slammed into storm-weary Louisiana with New Orleans squarely in its path, pelting homes and businesses with rain and howling winds, knocking out power to thousands and threatening to push up to 9 feet of sea water inland in a Gulf Coast region already pounded by multiple storms this year.
Storm Ready 2020: Preparing in a Pandemic
Roads were flooded near the coast, where forecasters said Zeta made landfall around Terrebone Bay near Cocodrie, an unincorporated fishing village at the end of a highway with a marine laboratory but few if any full-time residents.
Streams of rainfall ran off roofs in New Orleans' famed French Quarter, signs outside bars and restaurants swayed back and forth in the wind and palm trees along Canal Street whipped furiously. A few trees were down, and one that fell across utility lines sparked a bright orange flash.
More than 100,000 customers were without electricity in Louisiana, including more than 77,000 in metro New Orleans.
Zeta had top sustained winds of 110 mph as a Category 2 hurricane and was the 27th named storm of a historically busy Atlantic hurricane season - with over a month left before it ends. It set a new record as the 11th named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. in a single season, well beyond the nine storms that hit in 1916.
Tropical storm warnings were issued as far away as the north Georgia mountains, highly unusual for the region. New Orleans has been in the warning areas of six previous storms that veered east or west this season. This time, Zeta stayed on course.
Zeta had been predicted to hit as a relatively weak Category 1 hurricane, but Louisiana residents awoke to updated forecasts predicting a Category 2 at landfall around the southeastern part of the state.
"The good news for us - and look, you take good news where you can find it - the storm's forward speed is 17 mph. That's projected to increase, and so it's going to get in and out of the area relatively quickly, and then we're going to be able to assess the damage more quickly," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in an interview on The Weather Channel.
Officials urged people to take precautions and prepare to shelter in place, and a business-as-usual atmosphere in the morning in New Orleans diminished as the storm neared and grew stronger. Traffic slowed, and restaurants and coffee shops shut down.
"This year, the storms have been coming back-to-back. They've been avoiding New Orleans but finally decided to come," cookie shop worker Curt Brumfield said as he stowed empty boxes in trash cans outside and others boarded up the windows ahead of the storm's arrival.
Winds picked up and water rose above the docks in Jean Lafitte, a small fishing town south of New Orleans that takes its name from a French pirate. Workers drove truckloads of sand to low-lying areas where thousands of sandbags were already stacked for previous storms.
"We're going to get a lot of water fast," said the mayor, Tim Kerner Jr. "I'm optimistic regarding the tidal surge because of the speed of the storm, but we're not going to take it for granted."
Zeta's wind, rain and storm surge reached more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) east of New Orleans. In Mississippi, street lights swayed in Biloxi and the city of Pass Christian ordered all boats out of the harbor. Dauphin Island, Alabama, shut off water and sewer service in areas that typically are swamped in storms.