The storm named Barry defied predictions Saturday, coming ashore later and further to the west than expected, and spending just a few hours as an official hurricane.
But while the exact landfall location and timing flouted forecasters, it was clear that much of the Gulf Coast was in for a drenching. Some areas of Louisiana were in line to get up to 20 inches of rain over the weekend as the slow-moving Barry travels north.
“This is just the beginning,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “It’s going to be a long several days for our state.”
Late last night rescuers were trying to save a family of five trapped by high water in the town of Franklin in northern Louisiana. KTBS-tv said the National Guard had to halt its initial rescue mission because the water was too high to safely reach the family.
The rain is expected to continue for days and could still be soaking Tennessee and even Missouri as late as Tuesday morning.
Flooding was widespread (including above in Mandeville, La.) even before the storm made landfall around 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Coast Guard rescued more than a dozen people stranded on rooftops on the Isle de Jean Charles, about 45 miles south of New Orleans, on Saturday morning. The island, part of the southern Louisiana bayous threatened by rising sea levels, was under a voluntary evacuation, but the only two-lane road that reaches it was cut off by floodwaters.
The downpour was also flowing over the levees in Plaquemines Parish, which stretches southeast from New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico. And in Mandeville, La., on the opposite side of Lake Pontchartrain from the Big Easy, water was thigh-high by midafternoon due to the storm surge.
A smattering of locals and tourists wandered the empty streets of the French Quarter in the rain Saturday as New Orleans was spared the worst of the storm.
The Crescent City sealed all of its floodgates for the first time since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, but officials said they no longer believed water would top the levees built along the Mississippi after that storm devastated the city.
Still, water was rising in some neighborhoods, and experts warned that the rain that falls as the storm moves north will eventually flow back south, leaving the city’s defenses in question for several more days.
Storm surge remained a concern throughout the region, especially as Barry was moving at just 6 mph.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham, in a storm update on Facebook Live, pointed to long stretches along the coast expecting a storm surge of 6 feet or higher, along with the torrential rain. “The slower the movement, the more time there is to push that water in,” Graham said. “When it goes into the estuaries, bays and bayous, it’s trapped.”
Water may rise far from the Gulf and catch residents unaware. “Most of the fatalities in the last few years have been from inland flooding,” Graham warned.
Even though Barry was downgraded to a tropical storm as the winds lost some power after landfall at Intracoastal City, La., Graham warned that tropical storm-force winds, which can range from 40 to 70 mph, were still strong and dangerous.
Nearly 119,000 homes were without power Saturday afternoon, with some parishes, as Louisiana’s counties are called, completely blacked out. About 2,500 homes in western Mississippi were also in the dark.
Additional reporting be Michael Hechtman
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