New Orleans braces as Tropical Storm Barry forms; expected to hit as a hurricane Saturday

Tropical Storm Barry formed in the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to hit Louisiana and already-soaked New Orleans as a hurricane Saturday.         …

Tropical Storm Barry, the second named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, formed Thursday morning in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s expected to hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 1 hurricane on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said.

A tropical storm warning was put in effect Thursday for the Louisiana coast from the mouth of the Pearl River to Morgan City.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency, warning that the “entire coast of Louisiana is at play in this storm.” 

He said National Guard troops and high-water vehicles would be positioned all over the state.

Mandatory evacuations for some 10,000 people were ordered Thursday for portions of the east bank of Plaquemines Parish, which encompasses the last 70 miles of the Mississippi River before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Mandatory evacuation was also ordered for parts of Lafourche Jefferson Parish, including the town of Grand Isle, which is located on a narrow barrier island in the gulf.

The city of New Orleans itself did not plan to order evacuations because the storm 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.

Forecasters said that Louisiana – the bull’s-eye of the emerging storm – could see up to 12 inches of rain by Monday, with some isolated areas receiving up to 18 inches.

“The slow movement of this system will result in a long duration heavy rainfall threat along the central Gulf Coast and inland through the lower Mississippi Valley through the weekend and potentially into next week,” the weather service said.

The weather service has already issued a rare “high risk” for flash flooding across much of southeastern Louisiana. 

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Louisiana is under a hurricane watch as a tropical storm near the Gulf Coast gains strength. The New Orleans area has already experienced heavy rain. USA TODAY

In addition to the heavy rain, “there is a danger of life-threatening storm surge inundation along the coast of southern and southeastern Louisiana,” the hurricane center warned.

As of 11 a.m. ET Thursday, the hurricane center said that Barry had sustained winds of 40 mph and was crawling to the west at 5 mph. The center of the storm was located about 200 miles southeast of Morgan City, Louisiana. 

If the storm becomes a hurricane, it would be the first one of the season, the hurricane center said.

The warning emerged on the same day that a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration report warned Americans of a “floodier” future, with some streets in Louisiana’s largest city, including in the famed French Quarter, looking more like rivers.

In New Orleans, an early line of thunderstorms dumped as much as seven inches of rain within a three-hour period Wednesday morning, leaving up to four feet of water in some streets.

City officials asked residents to have at least three days of supplies on hand and to keep their neighborhood storm drains clear so water can move quickly.

That heavy rain could push the swollen Mississippi River dangerously close to the top of the city’s levees, officials cautioned.

Ricky Boyett, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans said the agency was not expecting widespread overtopping of the levees, but there are concerns for areas south of the city.

“We’re confident the levees themselves are in good shape,” he said. “The big focus is height.”

The river was expected to rise to 19 feet by late Friday at a key gauge in New Orleans. The area is protected by levees 20 to 25 feet high, he said.

After Wednesday’s onslaught of heavy rain, Valerie R. Burton said her neighborhood looked like a lake outside her door.

“There was about three to four feet of water in the street, pouring onto the sidewalks and at my door,” Burton said. “I went to my neighbors to alert them and tell them to move their cars.”

The rapidly rising waters brought memories of a 2017 flash flood that exposed major problems – and led to major personnel changes – at the Sewerage and Water Board, which oversees street drainage.

City officials said the pumping system that drains streets was at full capacity. But the immense amount of rain in three hours would overwhelm any system, said Sewerage and Water Board director Ghassan Korban.

Louisiana is no stranger to tropical storms and hurricanes, the Capital Weather Gang said. Just in the past 10 years, Tropical Storm Lee (2011), Hurricane Isaac (2012), Tropical Storm Cindy (2017), Tropical Storm Harvey (2017), and Hurricane Nate (2017) made landfall in Louisiana, and Hurricane Katrina’s infamous landfall in 2005 is “still fresh on people’s minds in New Orleans,” the weather gang noted.

After its rampage through Louisiana, the latest forecast said the storm will push north over the lower Mississippi Valley later this weekend and then the Ohio Valley toward the middle of next week, AccuWeather said.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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