Louisiana has withstood devastating hurricanes before, but authorities are urging residents not to underestimate the danger and destruction Tropical Storm Barry threatens as it gets closer to the coast Friday.
“Look, there are three ways that Louisiana floods: storm surge, high rivers, and rain. We’re going to have all three,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Barry is moving through the Gulf of Mexico and is the first tropical storm to threaten the United States this year. While there is a chance it could reach hurricane level, the real threat the storm poses is rain — which could quickly turn into unprecedented flooding.
It’s moving slowly through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, giving it time to strengthen, and it’s expected to release large amounts of rain on the roughly 10 million people in its path.
The Mississippi River, which is usually at 6 to 8 feet around New Orleans this time of year, is at 16 feet after a year of record flooding. And 10-15 more inches of rain are on the way, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
By early Friday, Barry was 95 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.
Preparations and evacuations
President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Louisiana, where the storm is expected to make landfall.
Louisiana has activated 3,000 members of the National Guard in anticipation of the destruction Barry might bring to the region, the governor said.
And government officials are not the only ones responding to the disaster. Chef José Andrés’ nonprofit World Central Kitchen announced Thursday it is setting up kitchens in Lafayette and New Orleans ahead of the storm.
Officials expect to issue a mandatory evacuation order Friday for everyone south of the Leon Theriot Flood Gate. But many residents aren’t too eager to leave.
Pamela Hughes said she is riding out the storm in her mother’s trailer in Port Sulphur, which is under a mandatory evacuation order.
“I really don’t think it’s going to be too bad,” she told CNN.
Others, such as Kristopher Williams, are staying behind to protect their pets and their belongings.
“Everything I own is in it,” he said of his truck. “I’m not an ignorant person. I know the dangers. I also know how to get out of just about any bind I encounter.”
A hurricane warning is in effect for Intracoastal City to Grand Isle and a hurricane watch is in effect for the mouth of the Mississippi River to Grand Isle.
Overwhelmed pumps and pipes
New Orleans’ system of pumps, underground pipes and canals were overwhelmed by rains earlier this week, but Edwards said Thursday that under current forecast models, the Mississippi River is not expected to overtop the river levee.
There is a significant chance Tropical Storm Barry could reach winds of 74 mph and turn into a hurricane. More than 800,000 people are currently under a hurricane warning.
Flooding concerns are not just limited to Louisiana and have expanded around the Gulf region.
Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle are also at risk for extreme rain, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said Thursday.
The National Weather Service tweeted early Friday morning that Mobile, Alabama, can expect heavy rain that may lead to flash flooding as well as a high risk of rip currents and a surf up to 8 feet.
The Florida Panhandle has seen double red flags go up in some areas, closing beaches, the National Weather Service said.
In addition to potential heavy rains in Louisiana, the Mississippi Delta Region is also at risk for tornadoes beginning Friday evening.