Louisiana authorities are urging residents not to underestimate the danger and destruction Tropical Storm Barry threatens as it nears 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 Thursday in a news conference.
Barry is getting stronger as it creeps across the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters en route to a landfall expected early Saturday in Louisiana.
While it could reach hurricane strength, the real peril it poses to roughly 10 million people in its path is rain, which could quickly trigger unprecedented flooding.
Ten to 15 more inches of rain are on the way, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said, threatening to inundate ground already soaked from a Wednesday storm that flooded some New Orleans homes and businesses.
Meantime, another risk looms in the Mississippi River. Usually at 6 to 8 feet this time of year around the Big Easy, the river is at 16 feet after a year of record flooding, and Barry could push in a storm surge of 2 to 3 feet.
Officials are “confident that there will not be overtopping of the levees in New Orleans,” Edwards told CNN Friday. Still, the unusual confluence of factors is rattling nerves along the “sliver by the river,” a swath of relatively high ground along the Mississippi that’s less likely to flood in typical rain and hurricane storm surge events than other areas.
At 8 a.m. ET Friday, Barry was 95 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. About 800,000 people are under a hurricane warning along the Louisiana coast from south of Lafayette to south of New Orleans.
Barry is the first storm of the 2019 season to approach the United States.
Stocking up or moving out
President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Louisiana, where officials activated 3,000 National Guard members in anticipation of the destruction Barry might bring, the governor said.
“Heed the warnings,” he told CNN’s John Berman on Friday morning, pointing out that fatalities often happen when motorists try to drive through floodwater.
“It’s deeper than they believe it to be, and also there’s current that sometimes is imperceptible,” Edwards said. “We need individuals to not drive through standing water.”
While some in low-lying places have been directed to evacuate, officials haven’t ordered mandatory evacuations in the most populated areas.
Many residents aren’t eager to endure the expense and effort of leaving, compared with what could be a few uncomfortable hours or days without power. Many also want to stay home so they can bail water if it rises, then dry out floors and drywall as soon as it recedes.
Pamela Hughes will ride out the storm in her mother’s trailer in Port Sulphur, which is under a mandatory evacuation order, she said.
“I really don’t think it’s going to be too bad,” she told CNN.
Others, including 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.”
As others head to higher ground, Chef José Andrés’ nonprofit World Central Kitchen announced Thursday it would set up kitchens in Lafayette and New Orleans ahead of the storm.
Overwhelmed pumps and pipes
New Orleans’ network of drainage pumps, underground pipes and canals were overwhelmed earlier this week by rain. And though water piled up briefly on some streets, the storm was a good test of the drainage system, Edwards said.
“It performed well,” he said, adding, “you never know exactly what Mother Nature’s going to throw at you. … But I’m confident that New Orleans is going to weather this storm (Barry) in pretty good fashion.”
Flooding concerns are not limited to Louisiana. Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle are also at risk for extreme rain, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said Thursday.
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 National Weather Service tweeted early Friday.
The Florida Panhandle has seen double red flags go up in some areas, closing beaches, the weather service said.
The Mississippi Delta Region is also at risk for tornadoes beginning Friday evening.