Storm Barry upgraded to hurricane, residents asked to shelter in place

Federico Mansilla
Julio 14, 2019

Tropical storm Barry was downgraded from a hurricane after making landfall, but the threat from excessive rainfall and winds is still real for Louisiana residents in the cyclone's path.

Though expected to be a weak hurricane, just barely over the 74 miles per hour (119 kph) wind speed threshold, it threatened disastrous flooding across a swath of the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Barry is expected to gradually weaken as it moves inland across the weekend.

New Orleans airport also saw state-wide cancellations of all major flights in and out of the city on Saturday and has now reported that Barry will leave 2 ft (60 cm) of rain over the period of the next 2 days.

"It is noteworthy that we're in our 260th day of a flood fight on the Mississippi River, the longest in history, and that this is the first time in history a hurricane will strike Louisiana while the Mississippi River has been at flood stage", said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in response to a question about climate change at a Friday news conference.

About 100,000 households are already without power.

A coastal storm surge into the mouth of the MS is expected to push its crest to 19ft in New Orleans, the highest level since 1950 and dangerously close to the top of the city's levees.

The river was expected to surge again on Monday at about 17 feet, up slightly because of the expected rains, the weather service said.

Officials said Saturday morning the levees are in lower Plaquemines Parish and are not the main levees protecting the Mississippi River.

President Donald Trump has already declared an emergency for the state on Thursday, which helps expedite any federal aid necessary to the state.

Officials predicted Barry would make landfall near Morgan City, west of New Orleans.

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The level of Lake Pontchartrain, an estuary on the city's northern flank, rose by 3 feet on Friday, triggering closure of a floodgate on a drainage canal that breached during Katrina, officials said.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered along the coast between Intracoastal City to St. Bernard Parish, including Plaquemines Parish.

Yuda and Cecilia Lilo, from Bolivia, were among the tourists who stayed. They've also emphasized the need to do more things such as ripping up concrete, and building water retention ponds and underground cisterns.

Across the Mississippi River in historic Algiers Point, people were exercising, walking their dogs and snapping pictures of the river in a light rain and occasional wind gusts.

People wade through a flooded street after Hurricane Barry in Mandeville, Louisiana, U.S. July 13, 2019.

Resident Jessica Awad, 36, said she wasn't anxious.

Most of the city's flood defences, improved after more than 1,800 died in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, are built between 20-25ft (6-7.6m) high. Up to 20 inches of rain may fall within the heavy rain bands from the storm. Rainwater is pumped out through a century-old system of canals, drainage pipes and pumps - all suffering from decades of neglect, laid bare during a particularly bad August 2017 deluge that dropped as much as 9 inches (23 centimeters) in three hours.

"What matters now is how fast it comes", agency spokesman Richard Rainey said.

"Barry appears to be playing out very much in the same direction, with the added impact of pre-storm flooding", said Hayhoe.

Across the city, motorists parked cars on the raised median strips of roadways, hoping the extra elevation would protect them from flood damage. Sandbags were stacked outside of hotels, shops and other businesses along Canal Street. "Stock up food. Get ready for the storm - ride it out", he said.

The sheriff's office said dozens of jail inmates held on minor charges were released to make room for almost 70 inmates transferred from a temporary lockup to the main detention facility, which was built to withstand a major hurricane. By Saturday morning, the storm system had gathered a "big slough of moisture", meaning "a lot of rain is on the way", said National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham. "I paid the consequences".

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