New Orleans braces for first hurricane of the season

  • St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office inmate workers move free sandbags for residents in Chalmette, La., Thursday, July 11, 2019. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is telling people in the southern part of the state to be prepared for heavy rain from Tropical Storm Barry as it pushes northward through the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • Tallulah Campbell, 8, clears out driftwood and other debris in preparation of Tropical Storm Barry near New Orleans, La., Thursday, July 11, 2019. The area is normally a driveway at her family's home that is one of the few on land called batture on the outside of the Mississippi River levee at the border of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • Plaquemines Parish road crews add more dirt to the top of a levee near the Mississippi River levee, back, and the St. Bernard Parish line as they prepare for potential flooding from Tropical Storm Barry in Braithwaite, La., on Thursday, July 11, 2019. (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP) STAFF PHOTO BY CHRIS GRANGER

  • Terrian Jones reacts as she feels something moving in the water at her feet as she carries Drew and Chance Furlough to their mother on Belfast Street in New Orleans during flooding from a storm in the Gulf Mexico that dumped lots of rain Wednesday, July 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • People cope with the aftermath of severe weather in the Broadmoor neighborhood in New Orleans, Wednesday. ap photo

  • The Mississippi River is at 16 feet, which is just below flood stage, 17 feet, in New Orleans, Thursday, July 11, 2019 ahead of Tropical Storm Barry from the Gulf of Mexico. The river levees protect to about 20 feet, which the river may reach if predicted storm surge prevents the river from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • The Old Glory towing vessel appears taller than St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter as the Mississippi River is currently above 16 feet, which is just below flood stage at 17 feet, in New Orleans, Thursday, July 11, 2019 ahead of Tropical Storm Barry from the Gulf of Mexico. The river levees protect to about 20 feet, which the river may reach if predicted storm surge prevents the river from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office inmate workers move free sandbags for residents in Chalmette, La., Thursday, July 11, 2019 ahead of ahead of Tropical Storm Barry from the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • Joe Miles, right, and Rey Varea, left, cut out drywall to prevent mold the day after severe weather flooded the home in the Broadmoor neighborhood in New Orleans, Thursday, July 11, 2019. (Max Becherer/The Advocate via AP) STAFF PHOTO BY MAX BECHERER

  • Delilah Campbell, 4, clears out driftwood and other debris in preparation of Tropical Storm Barry near New Orleans, La., Thursday, July 11, 2019. The area is normally a driveway at her family's home that is one of the few on land called batture on the outside of the Mississippi River levee at the border of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. The family removes the debris to prevent hearing clanging against the foundation pilings of the raised home. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • Delilah Campbell, 4, left, and her sister, Tallulah Campbell, 8, clear out driftwood and other debris in preparation of Tropical Storm Barry near New Orleans, La., Thursday, July 11, 2019. The area is normally a driveway at her family's home that is one of the few on land called batture on the outside of the Mississippi River levee at the border of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • Delilah Campbell, 4, right, and her sister, Tallulah Campbell, 8, clear driftwood and other debris in preparation of Tropical Storm Barry near New Orleans, La., Thursday, July 11, 2019. The area is normally a driveway at her family's home that is one of the few on land called batture on the outside of the Mississippi River levee at the border of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

  • A towing vessel moves along the Mississippi River, top right, as Tallulah Campbell, 8, clears out driftwood and other debris in preparation of Tropical Storm Barry near New Orleans, La., Thursday, July 11, 2019. The area is normally a driveway at her family's home that is one of the few on land called batture on the outside of the Mississippi River levee at the border of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. All boat traffic has been ordered to stop by Friday morning in preparation for the storm. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Matthew Hinton

Published: 7/11/2019 11:18:27 PM
Modified: 7/11/2019 11:18:15 PM

NEW ORLEANS — Thousands of Louisianans broke out sandbags or fled to higher ground Thursday as Tropical Storm Barry threatened to turn into the first hurricane of the season and blow ashore with torrential rains that could pose a severe test of New Orleans’ improved post-Katrina flood defenses .

National Guard troops and rescue crews in high-water vehicles took up positions around the state as Louisiana braced for the arrival of the storm Friday night or early Saturday.

Barry could have winds of about 75 mph (120 kph), just barely over the 74 mph threshold for a hurricane, when it comes ashore, making it a Category 1 storm, forecasters said.

But it is expected to bring more than a foot and a half (0.5 meters) of rain in potentially ruinous downpours that could go on for hours as the storm passes through the metropolitan area of nearly 1.3 million people and pushes slowly inland.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who declared an emergency earlier in the week as the storm brewed in the Gulf of Mexico, warned that the storm’s blow could form a dangerous combination with the already-high Mississippi River, which has been swelled by heavy rain and snowmelt upriver this spring.

“There are three ways that Louisiana can flood: storm surge, high rivers and rain,” Edwards said. “We’re going to have all three.”

He said authorities do not expect the Mississippi River to spill over its levees — something that has never happened in New Orleans’ modern history — but cautioned that a change in the storm’s direction or intensity could alter that.

As of late Thursday afternoon, Barry was about 90 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi, with winds around 40 mph (65 kph). A hurricane warning was posted for a 100-mile stretch of Louisiana coastline just below Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Southeast of New Orleans, authorities handed out sandbags and people piled into cars with their pets and began clearing out. Plaquemines Parish, at Louisiana’s low-lying southeastern tip, ordered the mandatory evacuation of as many as 10,000 people, and by midafternoon the area was largely empty.

Justice of the Peace David McGaha waited with his mother, his wife and their 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter for a ferry so they could evacuate to his mother’s house in Alabama.

“If the river wasn’t so high, we’d probably stay. You have to worry about the water that’ll be pushing against those levees,” he said. “They made a lot of improvements to the levee, but they haven’t completed all the projects.”

Clarence Brocks, 65, a Plaquemines Parish native and volunteer fire chief who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina 14 years ago and had to start over from scratch, found himself packing up again.

“We’re in between two major bodies of water and the only thing protecting us is two, 18-foot levees, and one of them failed already for Katrina,” he said.

The National Hurricane Center said as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain could fall in parts of eastern Louisiana, including Baton Rouge, and the entire region could get as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters). The New Orleans area could get 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) through Sunday, forecasters said.

Meteorologist Benjamin Schott said the chief concern is not the wind: “Rainfall and flooding is going to be the No. 1 threat with this storm.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that the pumping system that drains the city’s streets is working as designed but that Barry could dump water faster than the pumps can move it.

“We cannot pump our way out of the water levels ... that are expected to hit the city of New Orleans,” she warned.

However, the city did not plan to order evacuations because Barry was so close and because it was not expected to grow into a major hurricane. Officials instead advised people to keep at least three days of supplies on hand and to keep their neighborhood storm drains clear so water can move quickly.

Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic flooding in New Orleans in 2005 and was blamed altogether for more than 1,800 deaths in Louisiana and other states, by some estimates.

In its aftermath, the Army Corps of Engineers began a multibillion-dollar hurricane-protection system that isn’t complete. The work included repairs and improvements to some 350 miles (560 kilometers) of levees and more than 70 pump stations that are used to remove floodwaters.

The National Weather Service said it expects the Mississippi to rise to 19 feet (5.8 meters) by Saturday morning at a key gauge in the New Orleans area, which is protected by levees 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.6 meters) high.


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