NEW ORLEANS — Barry rolled ashore in Louisiana on Saturday, flooding highways, forcing people to scramble to rooftops and dumping large amounts of rain that officials feared would test the levees and pumps that were bolstered after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.
After briefly becoming a Category 1 hurricane, the system weakened to a tropical storm as it made landfall near Intracoastal City, about 160 miles west of New Orleans, with its winds falling to 70 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
By early evening, New Orleans had been spared the worst effects, receiving only light showers and gusty winds. A National Weather Service forecaster said the city may escape with only 2-4 inches of rain.
But officials warned that Barry could still cause disastrous flooding across a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast and drop up to 20 inches of rain through today across other parts of Louisiana.
“This is just the beginning,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday. “It’s going to be a long several days for our state.”
The Coast Guard rescued a dozen people from flooded areas of Terrebonne Parish, south of New Orleans, some of them from rooftops, a spokesman said. The people included a 77-year-old man who called for help because he had about 4 feet of water in his home.
None of the main levees on the Mississippi River failed or were breached, Edwards said. But a levee in Terrebonne Parish was overtopped by water, according to officials. And video showed water getting over a second levee in Plaquemines Parish, where fingers of land extend deep into the Gulf of Mexico. Terrebonne Parish ordered an evacuation affecting an estimated 400 people.
Nearly all businesses in Morgan City, about 85 miles west of New Orleans, were shuttered, with the exception of Meche’s Donuts Shop. Owner Todd Hoffpauir did a brisk business, despite the pounding winds and pulsating rain.
While making doughnuts, Hoffpauir said he heard an explosion and a ripping sound and later saw that the wind had peeled off layers of the roof at an adjacent apartment complex.
In some places, residents continued to build defenses against rising water. At the edge of the town of Jean Lafitte just outside New Orleans, volunteers helped several town employees sandbag a 600-foot stretch of the two-lane state highway. The roadway was already lined with one-ton sandbags, and 30-pound bags were being used to strengthen them.
“I’m here for my family, trying to save their stuff,” volunteer Vinnie Tortorich said. “My cousin’s house is already under.”
In Lafayette, Willie Allen and his 11-year-old grandson, Gavin Coleman, shoveled sand into 20 green bags, joining a group of more than 20 other people doing the same during a break in the rain. Wearing a mud-streaked T-shirt and shorts, Allen loaded the bags into the back of his pickup.
“Everybody is preparing,” he said. “Our biggest concern is the flood.”
Many businesses were also shut down or closed early in Baton Rouge, and winds were strong enough to rock large pickups. Whitecaps were visible on the Mississippi River.
Oil and gas operators evacuated hundreds of platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly 70% of Gulf oil production and 56% of gas production were turned off Saturday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which compiles the numbers from industry reports.
Barry developed from a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico, surprising New Orleans during the Wednesday morning rush with a sudden deluge that flooded streets, homes and businesses. For several days, officials braced for more flooding. But as sunset approached Saturday, the city saw only intermittent rain and wind, with occasional glimpses of sunshine.
Elsewhere, more than 120,000 customers in Louisiana and another nearly 6,000 customers in Mississippi and Alabama were without power Saturday, according to poweroutage.us.
During a storm update through Facebook Live, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham pointed to a computer screen showing a large, swirling mass of airborne water. “That is just an amazing amount of moisture,” he said. “That is off the chart.”
Barry was moving so slowly Saturday that heavy rain was expected to continue all weekend in Louisiana and surrounding states.
Although the outlook for New Orleans had improved significantly, weather service forecaster Robert Ricks said it was too early to declare that the city was in the clear. The agency also reduced its rainfall estimates for Baton Rouge to between 6-10 inches through today.
Forecasts showed the storm on a path toward Chicago that would swell the Mississippi River basin with water that must eventually flow south again.
National Weather Service senior forecaster John Lewis said southeastern and central Arkansas should expect to receive 5-8 inches of rain between tonight and Monday as Barry traverses the state.
“That’s the general projection, but locally, we expect there to be isolated amounts higher than that,” Lewis said.
Rain should continue to move through the state Monday, and the amount of rain Arkansas gets largely depends on the storm’s speed.
“The thing is moving so slowly, that’s what’s contributing to large amounts of rain,” Lewis said. “It’s not good news for farmers in eastern Arkansas who have been dealing with the flooding and late planting. When you’re talking this much rain, they just can’t take it.”
The eastern half of Arkansas, from Saline County eastward, will be under a flash flood warning until Wednesday evening, Lewis said. Augusta and the surrounding area near Searcy will be under a flash flood advisory through tonight and a flash flood watch through Monday evening.
Rainfall projections drop steeply for Arkansas’ western half, though Lewis said that could change if Barry’s path alters.
RAIN AND SURGES
For a few hours Saturday, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, just above the 74-mph threshold for being classified as a hurricane. Barry was expected to continue weakening overnight and become a tropical depression by today.
Downpours lashed coastal Alabama and Mississippi. Parts of Dauphin Island, a barrier island in Alabama, were flooded by rainfall and surging water from the Gulf, said Mayor Jeff Collier, who drove around in a Humvee to survey the damage. He said wind damage was minimal.
Flooding closed some roads in low-lying areas of Mobile County in Alabama, and heavy rains contributed to traffic accidents, said John Kilcullen, director of plans and operations for Mobile County Emergency Management Agency.
Governors declared emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, and authorities closed floodgates and raised water barriers around New Orleans.
Edwards said he did not expect the Mississippi River to spill over the levees, despite water levels already running high from spring rains and melting snow upstream. The barriers range in height from about 20 feet to 25 feet.
While the storm had threatened to raise the Mississippi River’s water levels in New Orleans to the highest in almost seven decades, the National Weather Service now estimates a peak of about 17 feet, or almost 3 feet below earlier forecasts.
“The worst is yet to come,” said Jim Rouiller, chief meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group near Philadelphia. “This is a very different kind of storm. It will continue to consolidate and be a severe flooding event for the state of Louisiana.”
“The slow movement of Barry will result in a long duration, heavy rainfall and flood threat from Sunday into next week,” Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, wrote in a forecast analysis.
Tropical-storm-force winds were reaching as far as 175 miles out of Barry’s center Saturday, according to a National Hurricane Center advisory.
Authorities told at least 10,000 people in exposed, low-lying areas along the Gulf Coast to leave, but no evacuations were ordered in New Orleans, where officials urged residents to “shelter in place.”
Despite the apparent calm in her city, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell cautioned that the storm continued to pose a threat.
“The slow pace pushed the timing of expected impacts further” into the week, Cantrell said. “This means that New Orleans residents are not out of the woods with this system.”
Information for this article was contributed by Sarah Blake Morgan, Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill, Rebecca Santana, Jay Reeves, Juan Lozano, Rogelio Solis, Jeffrey Collins, Russ Bynum, Sudhin Thanawala and Lisa Adams of The Associated Press; by Brian K. Sullivan, Sheela Tobben, Michael Hirtzer, Kevin Varley, Shruti Date Singh, Will Wade, Mark Chediak, Stephen Stapczynski and Rachel Adams-Heard of Bloomberg News; and by Clara Turnage of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (center) helps move a wooden barricade to block a road Saturday as water rises in Plaquemines Parish just south of New Orleans.
A Section on 07/14/2019
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