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Hurricane warning issued in Louisiana as Tropical Storm Barry gains strength in Gulf of Mexico  1 Week ago

Source:   USA Today  

NEW ORLEANS – A hurricane warning was issued late Thursday as Louisianans grabbed sandbags or fled to higher ground, their state threatened by Tropical Storm Barry.

Barry, the second named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, formed Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico. It could hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 1 hurricane Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said. 

More than 2 million people were under some level of advisory or warning as the storm approached.

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

“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 National Guard troops and high-water vehicles would be positioned all over the state. President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for the state late Thursday to provide disaster relief. 

Southeast of New Orleans, authorities handed out sandbags, and people piled into cars with their pets and cleared out.

Evacuations for about 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. Evacuation was also ordered for parts of Lafourche Jefferson Parish, including the town of Grand Isle, on a narrow barrier island in the gulf.

The city of New Orleans 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 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.

Residents in the Big Easy were stocking up on supplies. 

At the Tchoupitoulas Walmart, which sits across the street from the Mississippi River and a concrete flood wall, residents emptied shelves of bottled water, ramen noodles and produce. 

Ruby Sterling said she lives in more elevated part of the city but admitted she was feeling "a bit panicky."

"I don't know if the city can hold up," Sterling said. "But I'm hopeful."

A few aisles up, Asia Daniels and her husband pulled case after case of bottled water into their cart. Ordinarily, floodwater only rises to the first step of their house in uptown New Orleans. Wednesday's storms brought the water to the second. 

Forecasters said Louisiana – the bull's-eye of the emerging storm – could see up to 12 inches of rain by Monday, and some isolated areas could receive 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 issued a rare "high risk" for flash flooding across much of southeastern Louisiana for Saturday. 

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 did not expect 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, Boyett said.

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 5 p.m. EDT Thursday, the hurricane center said Barry had sustained winds of 40 mph and was crawling to the west at 5 mph. The center of the storm was about 175 miles southeast of Morgan City, Louisiana. 

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

The warnings about the storm came on the same day that a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration report warned Americans of a "floodier" future. Some streets in Louisiana's largest city, including in the famed French Quarter, look more like rivers.

In New Orleans, an early line of thunderstorms dumped as much as 7 inches of rain within a three-hour period Wednesday morning, leaving up to 4 feet of water in some streets.

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

“There was about 3 to 4 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 flash flood in 2017 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. 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. 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.  Hurricane Katrina’s infamous landfall in 2005 is "still fresh on people’s minds in New Orleans," the weather gang noted.

After hitting Louisiana, the storm will push north over the lower Mississippi Valley this weekend, then the Ohio Valley toward the middle of next week, AccuWeather said.

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