Slow-moving Barry thrashes La.
Coast Guard rescues more than a dozen outside New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — Barry rolled into the Louisiana coast Saturday, flooding highways, forcing people to scramble to rooftops and dumping heavy rain that could test the levees and pumps that were bolstered after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.
After briefly becoming a Category 1 hurricane, the system weakened to a tropical storm as it made landfall near Intracoastal City, Louisiana, 160 miles west of New Orleans, with its winds falling to 70 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
New Orleans had been spared the storm’s worst effects, receiving only sporadic light showers and gusty winds.
But officials warned that Barry could still cause disastrous flooding across a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast and drop up to 20 inches of rain through Sunday across a part of Louisiana that includes New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
“This is just the beginning,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “It’s going to be a long several days for our state.”
The Coast Guard rescued more than a dozen people from Isle de Jean Charles, where water rose so high that some residents clung to rooftops. The remote area is 80 miles southwest of New Orleans.
None of the main levees on the Mississippi River failed or were breached, Edwards said.
But video showed water overtopping a levee in Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, where fingers of land extend deep into the Gulf of Mexico.
Officials in Terrebonne Parish ordered an evacuation of some areas due to water overtopping another levee. Evacuees with nowhere to go were directed to a shelter in Houma.
Nearly all businesses in Morgan City, 85 miles west of New Orleans, were shuttered with the exception of Meche’s Donuts Shop. Owner Todd Hoffpauir did brisk business despite the pounding winds and pulsating rain.
In some places, residents continued to build defenses.
At the edge of the town of Jean Lafitte just outside New Orleans, volunteers helped town employees sandbag a stretch of the two-lane state highway. The street was already lined with one-ton sandbags, and 30-pound bags were being used to strengthen them.
“I’m here for my family, trying to save their stuff,” volunteer Vinnie Tortorich said. “My cousin’s house is already under.”
In Lafayette, Willie Allen and his 11-year-old grandson, Gavin Coleman, shoveled sand into 20 green bags, joining a group of more than 20 other people doing the same thing during a break in the rain. Wearing a mud-streaked T-shirt and shorts, Allen loaded the bags onto the back of his pickup.
“Everybody is preparing,” he said. “Our biggest concern is the flood.”
Many businesses were also shut down or closed early in Baton Rouge, and winds were strong enough to rock large pickups. Whitecaps were visible on the Mississippi River.
Oil and gas operators evacuated hundreds of platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly 70% of Gulf oil production and 56% of gas production were turned off Saturday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which compiles the numbers from industry reports.
The mood was sanguine in New Orleans, where locals and tourists wandered through mostly empty streets under a light rain or stayed indoors.
“I think whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” said Wayne Wilkinson, of New Orleans. “So I’m not really paying too much attention to it as I probably should be.”
More than 70,000 customers were without power Saturday, including nearly 67,000 in Louisiana and more than 3,000 in Mississippi, according to poweroutage.us.
During a storm update through Facebook Live, National Hurricane Center Director Ken 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.”
Barry was moving so slowly that heavy rain was expected to continue all weekend. Forecasts showed the storm on a path toward Chicago that would swell the Mississippi River basin with water that must eventually flow south again.
Downpours also lashed Alabama and Mississippi.
Parts of Dauphin Island, a barrier island in Alabama, were flooded both by rain and surging water from the Gulf, said Mayor Jeff Collier, who was driving around in a Humvee to survey damage.
Flooding closed some roads in low-lying areas of Mobile County in Alabama and heavy rains contributed to a number of accidents, said John Kilcullen, director of plans and operations for Mobile County Emergency Management Agency.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for much of the two coastal Alabama counties.
“The rain is our primary concern,” Kilcullen said.
Governors declared emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, and authorities closed floodgates and raised water barriers around New Orleans. It was the first time since Katrina that all floodgates in the New Orleans area had been sealed.
A restaurant owner wades through water surge from Lake Pontchartrain on Saturday in Mandeville, north of New Orleans.