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The Latest: Calls for voting extension in Georgia after Zeta

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Latest on Zeta (all times CDT): 5 p.m. ATLANTA — A group of civil rights organizations is asking Georgia’s governor to extend early voting hours Friday after the storm disrupted voting Thursday in the battleground state.

Groups including the Georgia NAACP and Fair Fight Action called on Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to use emergency powers to order voting be extended through 9 p.m. Friday in affected areas. Voting was disrupted at some sites in metro Atlanta and north Georgia after the storm caused power outages. Several polling places opened late.

Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger says that 15 counties were affected. At least one county said it would not hold voting at all Thursday. Friday is Georgia’s last day of early in-person voting. Record numbers of voters have cast ballots early in the state.

Kemp spokesman Cody Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

5 p.m.

DANVILLE, Va. — The Danville, Virginia, area, has been cleaning up after Zeta roared through the region.

As of 5 p.m., Danville Utilities reported 2,200 customers without power, down from a high of approximately 15,000 at 11:30 a.m. A post on social media said the outages were scattered throughout the city and the utility’s territory in the county.

The Danville Register & Bee reported winds reaching 40 mph (64 kph) were recorded at Danville Regional Airport, according to Ben Gruver, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg.

4:30 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Duke Energy says more than 263,000 customers in North Carolina are without electricity after the remnants of Hurricane Zeta passed through the state.

Catawba County reported more than 19,000 customer outages and Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, had just under 17,000 outages.

The News & Record of Greensboro reports that four early voting sites in Guilford County had to rely on generators on Thursday after Zeta knocked out power.

The early voting sites were operating on generators as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday, according to a news release from Guilford County. Voters were still able to cast their ballots and “things are moving smoothly at all of our polling sites,” Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said in a news release.

3:35 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says polling places are among the sites taking priority amid efforts to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands in the wake of Hurricane Zeta.

The Democratic governor said Thursday that he’s consulting with Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to see whether some polling sites might have to be changed ahead of Tuesday’s election. The challenge, he said, is making the decision quickly and getting the word out to voters early enough. Edwards said the changes have to be recommended by Ardoin and agreed to by the governor and legislators.

Possibilities include shifting polls to other, temporary locations or consolidating polling places in one large venue. Edwards’ remarks came during a news conference in New Orleans.

Early voting ended Tuesday, so Zeta hasn’t disrupted any voting so far.

If changes prove necessary, Edwards said, “I expect that we’ll be moving in that direction sooner rather than later because the hard part here is you have to make the decision early enough to communicate to voters so that they’re not deprived of the opportunity to cast that vote on Tuesday.”

3:15 p.m.

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — Mississippi officials say Hurricane Zeta hit their state's coastline harder than any storm since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday said he believes the state has suffered enough damage to qualify for a federal disaster declaration, which would mean financial aid for governments and individuals.

Reeves says Zeta did more damage than expected because winds maintained their strength even as Zeta moved rapidly through Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Republican governor spoke in front of a Bay St. Louis house where stilts collapsed during the middle of the storm, injuring two and prompting a dramatic rescue by boat. The injured residents are expected to recover.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Greg Michel urged patience as residents wait for electricity to be restored.

Ken Flanagan, a spokesperson for inland George County, said early estimates there show 400 to 500 roofs were seriously damaged in a county of fewer than 25,000 people.

1:05 p.m.

Power Outage US says power outages from Hurricane Zeta now exceed 2.5 million, stretching from Louisiana to Virginia.

Georgia remains the worst overall state for outages, with more than 700,000 customers still without power in the Atlanta area and the northern parts of the state.

However, larger percentages of customers are without power in Louisiana and Alabama, with more than one-fifth of monitored meters without electricity.

12:35 p.m.

PASCAGOULA, Miss. — In Jackson County, on the Mississippi coast, Circuit Clerk Randy Carney says the county's courthouse lost power during the storm and has been operating on a generator.

The courthouse had to close down Wednesday afternoon because of Zeta, but Carney says they managed to open the office around 10 a.m. Thursday with about a third of the staff. He says 20 people had come to the building to vote before noon, compared to nearly 200 who voted on Wednesday.

That’s a massive dip from the 400 voters a day Carney says he was seeing earlier this week.

Despite less people coming in to vote because of the storm, Carney says he doesn’t think the storm will have an impact overall on people’s ability to vote in the election.

12:00 p.m.

The remnants of Hurricane Zeta have cut power for tens of thousands of people in North Carolina and blocked highways and streets with downed trees.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports high winds and heavy rains struck parts of central North Carolina Thursday morning. The National Weather Service says there were wind gusts of more than 60 mph (97 kph).

Duke Energy says nearly 60,000 customers in the state lacked power by mid Thursday.

The newspaper reports falling trees had blocked U.S. 421 southbound, but traffic was moving again within an hour. Other roads were also reported to be blocked, and some houses were damaged by falling trees.

Authorities say a tree fell on a pickup truck as it was being driven. The driver was taken to a hospital, but was not reported to be seriously injured.

11:25 a.m.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Power restoration from Hurricane Zeta is well underway in Louisiana.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says 469,000 homes and businesses remained without power mid-morning on Thursday. That’s down from a peak of 531,000 outages in the state.

Edwards did not give a timeline for full restoration, but says recovery work should be easier because the heaviest damage was to utility poles and other distribution lines, rather than the primary transmission hubs.

Louisiana is prioritizing power restoration from Hurricane Zeta to polling places and local elections offices to prepare for Election Day. Early voting ended Tuesday, so Zeta hasn’t disrupted any voting so far.

Edwards says the secretary of state’s office and local elections officials will notify voters ahead of Election Day if any polling sites will be unavailable and changes to balloting locations are made.

11:00 a.m.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says officials are still assessing the extent of Zeta’s damage across the southeastern parishes.

Edwards says there appears to be “catastrophic damage” on the barrier island of Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish. He says Zeta punched three breaches in the levee on the island, the only levee failures from the storm in Louisiana.

The governor says repairs are being expedited, and pumps onsite are working to drain water from the area, where most houses are raised several feet in the air on pilings.

The extent of the damage at Grand Isle remains unclear because the only highway onto the island was blocked with debris. Edwards says he ordered the Louisiana National Guard to assist with search and rescue efforts, including door-to-door checks on property.

Edwards planned a flyover of the area Thursday, along with stops in several areas to visit with parish officials.

10:35 a.m.

ATLANTA — Hurricane Zeta is holding back voters at a number of polling places in northern Georgia that lost power.

State officials weren’t sure how many of the 336 early voting locations statewide were closed or delayed in opening. In Douglas County, in Atlanta’s western suburbs, all six polling locations were without power, as were county offices.

Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling says Habersham County in northeast Georgia had advised state officials that it would not host voting at all on Thursday.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says his office had given utility officials a list of all polling locations and has asked them to restore power to them as quickly as possible. Raffensperger says counties could go to court, if they chose, to extend polling hours Thursday, but said they’re not mandated to seek extensions.

10:00 a.m

ATLANTA - In metro Atlanta, voting disruptions varied by county due to the storm.

Jessica Corbitt, a spokeswoman for Georgia's Fulton County Government, says at least six of the 30 polling sites in the county were still without power around 10 a.m.

Neighboring DeKalb County had one site without power, but even that was still functioning with generators and backup batteries, the county board of registration and elections said on Twitter.

A tracker on Cobb County's website says voting sites in the county delayed opening until 10 a.m., but more than half of the 11 locations were up and running later in the morning with wait times as long as 45 minutes.

10:00 a.m.

GULFPORT, Miss. — The largest utility on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is telling customers to expect a multiple-day wait before all electricity is restored.

Mississippi Power Co. spokesperson Jeff Shepard says the unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. is assessing damage, and some of its high-voltage transmission lines have been damaged.

Shepard says the company has restored power to more than 8,000 customers, but has 83,000 for whom the lights are still out. He says Mississippi Power is unlikely to have an estimate of how long restoration will take until Friday.

“We want our customers to be prepared for a multi-day restoration effort,” Shepard said.

8:50 a.m.

Officials say a man drowned in Biloxi, Mississippi, after getting trapped in rising ocean water pushed ashore by Zeta.

Harrison County Coroner Brian Switzer says 58-year-old Leslie Richardson was at an old marina with another man Wednesday evening when the Gulf began to rise.

Switzer says Richardson called 911 and told a dispatcher the car was beginning to float so he and the other man were going to try to wade or swim to safety. The two made it as far as a tree and hung for safety as the wind and water raged. A military-style rescue truck wasn’t able to get through the floodwaters and Switzer says Richardson’s strength finally “just gave out.”

A person on a balcony at a nearby hotel spotted Richardson’s body floating in the flooded beachfront highway about two hours later and authorities were able to recover it once the weather calmed a little. Richardson’s acquaintance wasn’t badly injured.

It's the third death that's being blamed on Zeta as the storm races across the South after coming ashore in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane.

6:55 a.m.

Officials in Georgia say high winds from Tropical Storm Zeta have caused a second death in the South.

Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office says a large oak tree uprooted and fell through the corner of a mobile home, killing a man in Acworth. Two other adults and a child were in the home at the time of the incident but weren't injured.

Acworth is about 32 miles (51 kilometers) north of Atlanta.

The storm raged onshore Wednesday afternoon in Louisiana as a strong Category 2 and then moved swiftly across the New Orleans area and into neighboring Mississippi, bringing with it both fierce winds and storm surge.

5:45 a.m.

Nearly 2 million customers were without power across several southern states before dawn Thursday as Tropical Storm Zeta races through the region.

According to the website PowerOutage.us, about 1.8 million were without electricity in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Georgia has the most with more than 800,000 in the dark.

A fast-moving Zeta weakened to a tropical storm as it barreled northeast Thursday morning after ripping through Louisiana and Mississippi. The storm raged onshore Wednesday afternoon in the small village of Cocodrie in Louisiana as a strong Category 2 and then moved swiftly across the New Orleans area and into neighboring Mississippi, bringing with it both fierce winds and storm surge.

4:00 a.m.

A tropical storm warning is in effect in Atlanta as Tropical Storm Zeta makes its way quickly toward the northeast.

Heavy rain accompanied wind speeds of 35-45 mph (56-66 kmh) and gusts of 65 mph (104 kmh) early Thursday in the city that has only seen one other tropical storm warning.

Hurricane Irma roared into Florida as a deadly Category 4 hurricane in September 2017 causing widespread threats across the south.

The National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Georgia, confirmed then that Atlanta — more than 250 miles (402 kilometers) inland from either the Atlantic or Gulf coasts — was under a tropical storm warning for the first time. Metro Atlanta saw peak winds of 30-40 mph (48-58 kmh) and gusts up to 55 mph (88 kmh).

Tropical storm warnings were issued as far away as southern Virginia, highly unusual for the region. Forecasters issued a string of tornado warnings for as far east as the Florida Panhandle.

1:30 a.m.

Zeta has weakened into a tropical storm over central Alabama.

The National Hurricane Center says strong winds are continuing over across portions of the state and the Florida panhandle early Thursday.

The storm was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south southeast of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (112 kmh). Zeta is moving quickly toward the northeast near 31 mph (49 kmh). The center of the storm will move across portions of the southeastern U.S. Thursday morning, move across the Mid-Atlantic states during the afternoon and over the western Atlantic by the evening. Additional weakening is expected and Zeta should decay into a non-tropical gale-force low later Thursday.

Storm surge warnings were in effect from the Mississippi/Alabama border to the Alabama/Florida border.

At least one person was killed as Zeta slammed into the storm-weary Gulf Coast on Wednesday, thrashing the New Orleans metro area with rain and generating winds that ripped apart buildings and knocked out power before making its way through Mississippi and Alabama.

12:10 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans residents are left with a mess of storm debris on roads and lawns, some toppled trees and fences and power outages throughout the area after Hurricane Zeta.

“I don’t remember the last time we had a storm of this magnitude in October,” said Stephanie Becnel, surveying the damage with a flashlight, which mostly consisted of tree debris from the sprawling oaks lining the street outside her New Orleans home.

“We just cleaned up our yard and decorated for Halloween, so now we have to do it all over again,” Becnel said. “But I think that’s mainly what it’s going to be is just cleaning up debris, tree limbs, trash.”

Will Arute wasn’t so fortunate. A large section of oak tree snapped as the eyewall passed over New Orleans and crashed onto his car and a corner of the second story of his home. He said it sounded like a bomb went off.

“It was really intense, and the tree just cracked,” Arute said. “I did not anticipate this to happen. It was pretty intense along the eye wall when it went through here. Luckily, it wasn’t worse. No one got hurt. I just hope everybody else is safe.”

12:05 a.m.

D'IBERVILLE, Miss. — Mackenzie Umanzor didn’t evacuate from D’Iberville, Mississippi, when she heard Hurricane Zeta would be coming through the area.

“The last hurricane that came through, like a month or so ago, we definitely prepared a lot more because we were told that it was going to be category two. ... And it was a little bit of rain, a little bit of thunder, but really nothing too notable,” Umanzor, 19, said. “So then with Zeta, I didn’t personally prepare for it at all. ... But it started hitting and raining and then it just increasingly got really bad, really fast.”

The 30-pound (14-kilogram) weights that Umanzor had placed in front of her glass doors to secure them were quickly blown aside.

“The wind just blew them right out,” she said. “All types of stuff, vases, plants, my side tables, just flying across the room.”

The doors were blown open and she suffered a cut to her hand from broken glass as she pulled two couches in front of the panes. The power went out, and outside, she could hear the sound of the roof of her shed coming loose.

“You could hear the tin roof waving in the wind and the stronger the wind got. It was just rattling. And there was a couple of snaps, lots of cracks of branches and trees falling. … it was pretty scary.”

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