New Orleans braces as Hurricane Barry hits land nearby

Cheryl Sanders
July 14, 2019

Tropical Storm Barry, poised to make landfall as the first Atlantic hurricane of 2019, churned ever closer to Louisiana's shore early on Saturday as most New Orleans residents huddled at home, or in bars, bracing for the threat of severe flooding.

"Dangerous storm surge, heavy rains and wind conditions continuing across the north-central Gulf Coast", the NWS said.

The Coast Guard rescued more than a dozen people from the remote Isle de Jean Charles, south of New Orleans, where water rose so high that some residents clung to rooftops. As day broke, streets in the normally raucous French Quarter tourist district were largely empty and barely damp.

In St. John's Parish next to New Orleans, some communities were already under two or more feet of water, local television footage showed. But officials warned that Barry could still cause disastrous flooding across a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast and drop up to 20 inches (50 cm) of rain through Sunday across a part of Louisiana that includes New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Elsewhere, more than 120,000 customers in Louisiana and another almost 6000 customers in MS and Alabama were without power Saturday, according to poweroutage.us.

It is forecast to reach category 1 hurricane strength by then, with winds of at least 74 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said. It is expected to weaken again and become a tropical depression on Sunday.

During a storm update through Facebook Live, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham pointed to a computer screen showing a huge, swirling mess of airborne water. "This is just the beginning", he said at a Saturday news conference. "That is off the chart".


Heavy rain bands wrapping into Barry are already affecting MS and Alabama. The weather service said some gusts could reach up to 35 miles per hour this morning and through the afternoon, and a wind advisory is in effect along the coast.

Clouds from Tropical Storm Barry spin over downtown New Orleans on Saturday.

Water was flowing over a levee in Point Celeste in Plaquemines Parish, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said.

"We could be looking at widespread major flooding across several river basins", said the NHC.

Officials said they were anxious the water could close Highway 23, cutting off a key road and the rest of the parish to the south. And about 10,000 people in Plaquemines Parish on Louisiana's low-lying southeastern tip were ordered evacuated on Thursday.

As the storm began with overnight showers and significant winds, some motorists still managed to fearless the weather in spite of warnings of 20 inches (50 centimetres) of rain.

By late afternoon, New Orleans had been spared the storm's worst effects, receiving only sporadic light showers and gusty winds.


"Although you may not have seen rainfall as we have been discussing, it is coming our way", Cantrell said.

Governors declared emergencies in Louisiana and MS, and authorities took closed floodgates and raised water barriers around New Orleans.

Authorities were keeping a particularly watchful eye on the levee system built to contain the lower Mississippi River, which winds through the heart of New Orleans and was already well above flood stage from months of heavy upstream rainfall over the Midwest. The barriers range in height from about 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 meters).

There was one piece of good news: Late Friday night, forecasters said the Mississippi River was expected to crest in New Orleans at about 17.1 feet (5.2 meters) on Monday, not 19 feet (5.8 meters) as had been earlier predicted. But, as rain falls throughout the weekend, the river is forecast to keep rising, putting even more pressure on the levee system that protects the city.

Authorities had urged New Orleans residents to secure property, stock up on provisions and shelter in place.

That could balloon to US$3.2 billion if floods overwhelm New Orleans, he said.


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