South Louisiana braces for Barry

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - KEVIN MCGILL AND REBECCA SAN­TANA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Chevel John­son, Janet McCon­naughey and Sarah Blake Mor­gan of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

St. Bernard Par­ish, La., pris­on­ers load free sand­bags for peo­ple Thurs­day in Chal­mette as Trop­i­cal Storm Barry heads to­ward south Louisiana threat­en­ing to be­come the first hur­ri­cane of the sea­son. Of­fi­cials braced for tor­ren­tial rain­fall that poses a test for New Or­leans’ post-Ka­t­rina flood de­fenses. The storm is ex­pected to make land­fall as early as this evening.

NEW OR­LEANS — Thou­sands of Louisianan­s broke out sand­bags or fled to higher ground Thurs­day as Trop­i­cal Storm Barry threat­ened to turn into the first hur­ri­cane of the sea­son and blow ashore with tor­ren­tial rains that pose a test for New Or­leans’ im­proved post-Ka­t­rina flood de­fenses.

Na­tional Guard troops and res­cue crews in high-wa­ter ve­hi­cles took up po­si­tions around the state as Louisiana girded for the ar­rival of the storm late to­day or early Satur­day.

Barry could have winds of about 75 mph, just barely over the 74 mph thresh­old for a hur­ri­cane, when it comes ashore, mak­ing it a Cat­e­gory 1 storm, fore­cast­ers said.

But it is ex­pected to pro­duce more than a foot and a half of rain in po­ten­tially ru­inous down­pours that could go on for hours as the storm passes through the metropolit­an area of nearly 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple and pushes slowly in­land.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Ed­wards, who de­clared an emer­gency ear­lier in the week as the storm brewed in the Gulf of Mex­ico, warned that the storm’s blow could form a dan­ger­ous com­bi­na­tion with the al­ready-high Mis­sis­sippi River, which has been swelled by heavy rain and snowmelt up­river this spring.

“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 author­i­ties do not ex­pect the Mis­sis­sippi River to spill over its lev­ees — some­thing that has never hap­pened in New Or­leans’ mod­ern his­tory — but cau­tioned that a change in the storm’s di­rec­tion or in­ten­sity could al­ter that.

As of Thurs­day night, Barry was about 85 miles south of the mouth of the Mis­sis­sippi River, with winds around 50 mph. A hur­ri­cane warn­ing was posted for a 100-mile stretch of Louisiana coast­line just below Ba­ton Rouge and New Or­leans.

South­east of New Or­leans, author­i­ties handed out sand­bags and peo­ple piled into cars with their pets and be­gan clear­ing out. Plaque­m­ines Par­ish, at Louisiana’s low-ly­ing south­east­ern tip, or­dered the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion of as many as 10,000 peo­ple, and by midafter­noon the area was largely empty.

Jus­tice of the Peace David McGaha waited with his mother, his wife and their 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daugh­ter for a ferry so they could evac­u­ate to his mother’s house in Alabama.

“If the river wasn’t so high, we’d prob­a­bly stay. You have to worry about the wa­ter that’ll be push­ing against those lev­ees,” he said. “They made a lot of im­prove­ments to the levee, but they haven’t com­pleted all the projects.”

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said as much as 20 inches of rain could fall in parts of eastern Louisiana, in­clud­ing Ba­ton Rouge, and the en­tire re­gion could get as much as 10 inches. The New Or­leans area could get 10-15 inches through Sun­day, fore­cast­ers said.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ben­jamin Schott said the chief concern is not the wind: “Rain­fall and flood­ing is going to be the No. 1 threat with this storm.”

New Or­leans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the pump­ing sys­tem that drains the city’s streets is work­ing as de­signed but Barry could dump wa­ter faster than the pumps can move it.

How­ever, the city did not plan to or­der evac­u­a­tions be­cause Barry was so close and be­cause it was not ex­pected to grow into a ma­jor hur­ri­cane.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said it ex­pects the Mis­sis­sippi River to rise to 19 feet by Satur­day morn­ing at a key gauge in the New Or­leans area, which is pro­tected by lev­ees 20-25 feet high.

AP/MATTHEW HIN­TON

AP/MATTHEW HIN­TON

Delilah Camp­bell, 4, (left) and her sis­ter Tal­lu­lah Camp­bell, 8, clear out drift­wood and other de­bris Thurs­day near New Or­leans as Trop­i­cal Storm Barry ap­proaches.

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