Late Tuesday, the storm had sustained winds of 65 mph (105 kph) and was centered 410 miles (655 kilometers) south-southwest of the Mississippi River's mouth.
The storm was picking up momentum - traveling at 39 miles per hour - and the National Hurricane Center says an even faster northeastward movement is expected later Thursday.
A wave in the eastern Caribbean became "a little more concentrated" overnight and has an 80 percent chance of forming into a tropical storm as it moves across the Caribbean over the weekend or early next week, the National Hurricane Center said.
Mark Andolino remembers stinging rain and a howling wind that peeled the roof off part of his Cajun Tide Beach Resort on Grand Isle, the Louisiana barrier island town where residents were among the first to feel the ferocity of Hurricane Zeta.
Zeta weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 90mph as it moved into southern MS few hours after landfall, but forecasters said it remained a life-threatening storm.
Almost 30 million people in eight states were under a tropical storm warning this week as Zeta made its way through. The last time metro Atlanta was under such a warning was October 2018 as Hurricane Michael passed over the region. More than 2 million utility customers were in the dark in Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and MS early Thursday, according to PowerOutage.US.
The howling gale toppled trees and knocked limbs off stately oaks in New Orleans, and in MS the storm surge whipped up by the winds tossed a shrimping boat into a front yard.
"Our heart breaks because this has been a tough, tough year", said Gov. Edwards, whose state has taken the brunt of the hurricanes. A 55-year-old man died from the electric shock of a downed power line in New Orleans on Wednesday night.
"STAY INSIDE: Can't stress enough how risky the roads are right now in #NOLA". Also, many traffic lights are out. "At the same time, we need people to take seriously the threat of downed power lines all of which should be regarded as live".
Storm surge hits the banks of Lake Pontchartrain as Hurricane Zeta makes landfall in New Orleans Louisiana
In Mississippi, Biloxi Police Chief John Miller told CNN affiliate WLOX that a person's body was found on the Broadwater Marina, and that the death is considered storm-related. It also caused several breaches in the "burrito levee" in Grand Isle, in Jefferson Parish.
The hurricane intensified quickly and was just shy of a major, Category 3 storm when it hit the Louisiana coast.
"We have three sets of hurricane evacuees that are sheltering in Louisiana simultaneously", Gov. John Bel Edwards noted during a Friday news conference.
Most of the evacuees have been displaced since August from Laura and have been spread among six hotels in New Orleans, the governor's office said.
Impact Forecasting said that with Zeta, "The widespread swath of damage across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas was likely to result in an overall direct economic loss well into the billions (USD)".
"I'm physically and mentally exhausted", a distraught Yolanda Lockett of Lake Charles said, standing outside a New Orleans hotel. In 2005, 28 storms were reported, including 15 hurricanes. "I guess that's what did it", he said.
The National Weather Service reported one fatality. "Structural damage. Ambulance building destroyed".
Leslie Richardson and another man were forced to abandon a stranded auto and he desperately clung to a tree before his strength "just gave out", officials said. "Communications & internet out", it posted.
The storm blew its way through Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia and is said to be the most powerful hurricane to ever directly hit New Orleans.
Six people have died due to hazardous conditions during and after the hurricane.