Barry strength­ens to hur­ri­cane; storm surge feared

The Saline Courier Weekend - - NEWS -

NEW OR­LEANS — Car­ry­ing “off the chart” amounts of mois­ture, sprawl­ing Barry strength­ened into a hur­ri­cane Satur­day as it crawled slowly to­ward shore, knock­ing out power on the Gulf Coast and dump­ing heavy rains that could last for days in a test of flood-pre­ven­tion ef­forts im­ple­mented af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina dev­as­tated New Or­leans 14 years ago.

As na­tives and tourists in the Big Easy, Ba­ton Rouge and other heav­ily pop­u­lated ar­eas in the storm’s path hun­kered down or wan­dered through quiet, emp­tied streets wait­ing for the worst, the Coast res­cued more than a dozen peo­ple from the flooded re­mote island of Isle de Jean Charles. Wa­ter on the island had risen so high that some res­i­dents were cling­ing to rooftops by the time help ar­rived.

Video showed wa­ter over­top­ping a levee in Plaque­m­ines Par­ish, a fin­ger of land ex­tend­ing deep into the Gulf of Mex­ico, down­stream from New Or­leans. Of­fi­cials were still con­fi­dent that New Or­leans’ lev­ees would hold firm. Most of the lev­ees range from about 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 me­ters) in height.

Barry had strength­ened into a Cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane by Satur­day morn­ing, with max­i­mum sus­tained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said. Storms be­come hur­ri­canes when their winds reach 74 mph (120 kph) or higher.

Of­fi­cials pre­dicted Barry would make land­fall near Mor­gan City, west of New Or­leans. The small town had an overnight cur­few that ex­pired Satur­day morn­ing, af­ter on-and-off rain and power out­ages. Peo­ple used cell­phones to see in the dark, and opened doors and win­dows to let the warm, sticky trop­i­cal air cir­cu­late.

More than 70,000 cus­tomers were with­out power Satur­day morn­ing, in­clud­ing 66,830 in Louisiana and 3,140 in Mis­sis­sippi, ac­cord­ing to pow­erou­tage.us.

Though ex­pected to be a weak hur­ri­cane, Barry threat­ened dis­as­trous flood­ing across a swath of the Gulf Coast. 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.

Dur­ing a storm up­date through Face­book Live, Gra­ham pointed to a com­puter screen show­ing a huge, swirling mess of air­borne wa­ter. “That is just an amaz­ing amount of mois­ture,” he said. “That is off the chart.”

The rains in­un­dated the re­mote Isle de Jean Charles, about 45 miles (72 kilo­me­ters) south of New Or­leans. Coast Guard res­cuers used he­li­copters to pluck some res­i­dents from rooftops and loaded oth­ers into boats from flooded homes on Satur­day morn­ing, Petty Of­fi­cer Lexie Pre­ston said.

Barry was moving so slowly, it was likely that heavy rain would con­tinue through­out the week­end across Louisiana, Gra­ham said. There were pre­dic­tions of 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 cen­time­ters) of rain through Sunday across a swath of Louisiana that in­cludes New Or­leans and Ba­ton Rouge with some parts of the state pos­si­ble get­ting 25 inches

(63 cen­time­ters). Looking ahead, track­ing fore­casts showed the storm moving to­ward Chicago, swelling the Mis­sis­sippi River basin with wa­ter that must even­tu­ally flow south again.

Wa­ter was flow­ing over a levee in Point Ce­leste in Plaque­m­ines Par­ish, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said. He said crews were work­ing to con­tain the wa­ter.

Gov­er­nors de­clared emer­gen­cies in Louisiana and Mis­sis­sippi, and au­thor­i­ties took un­prece­dented pre­cau­tions in clos­ing flood­gates and rais­ing the bar­ri­ers around New Or­leans. Gov. John Bel Ed­wards said it was the first time all flood­gates were sealed in the New Or­leans-area Hur­ri­cane Risk Re­duc­tion Sys­tem since Ka­t­rina. Still, he said he didn’t ex­pect the Mis­sis­sippi River to spill over the lev­ees de­spite wa­ter lev­els al­ready run­ning high from spring rains and melt­ing snow up­stream.

Rescue crews and about 3,000 Na­tional Guard troops were posted around Louisiana with boats, high-wa­ter ve­hi­cles and he­li­copters. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared a fed­eral emer­gency for Louisiana, au­tho­riz­ing fed­eral agen­cies to co­or­di­nate re­lief ef­forts.

There was one piece of good news: Late Fri­day night, fore­cast­ers said the Mis­sis­sippi River was ex­pected to crest in New Or­leans at about 17.1 feet (5.2 me­ters) on Mon­day, not 19 feet (5.8 me­ters) as had been ear­lier pre­dicted. The lev­ees pro­tect­ing the city range from about 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 me­ters) in height.

On-again, off again rain hit New Or­leans overnight. As day broke, streets in the nor­mally rau­cous French Quar­ter tourist district were largely empty and barely damp.

Street sweep­ers ram­bled by. It was breezy, but flags on bal­conies over­hang­ing the empty streets still oc­ca­sion­ally fell limp. A few cars were out on roads. Some nearby homes had piled sand­bags out­side their doors.

“So far it’s been re­ally nice. It’s been cool. It’s been a lit­tle breezy,” said Wayne Wilkinson, out with his dog in the French Quar­ter. He wel­comed the pre-storm respite from July’s nor­mal heat, but said he was mind­ful things could change: “I know we have to be on the alert.”

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