MANAGUA, Nicaragua - Tropical Storm Nate was blamed Thursday for at least 22 deaths across Central America as it dumped rain across the region on a path that would carry it toward a potential landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend. 

Louisiana officials ordered some people there to evacuate. As of late Thursday, the National Hurricane Center had issued a hurricane watch from Morgan City, Louisiana, eastward to the Mississippi/Alabama border, including metropolitan New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain, and Lake Maurepas. 

The storm's center was moving off the center of Honduras' eastern shore late Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm could dump as much as 20 inches of rain by Saturday in southern Honduras and western Nicaragua, the National Hurricane Center said. Flash floods and mudslides are both possible.

It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph at midday Thursday and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea Thursday night and Friday before a possible strike on the Cancun region at the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

The forecast track showed the storm could brush across the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula late Friday night and then hit the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane by Sunday morning. Forecasters said hurricane conditions were possible in Mexico Friday night.

In Louisiana, officials ordered the evacuation of part of coastal St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans ahead of the storm. Earlier Thursday, a voluntary evacuation was called in the barrier island town of Grand Isle south of New Orleans.

The storm is expected to dump between three to six inches of rain on the U.S. Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said. Some areas could get up to 12 inches of rain. 

New Orleans officials outlined steps to bolster the city's pump and drainage system. Weaknesses in that system were revealed during summer flash floods.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.