Slow-mov­ing Barry thrashes La.

Coast Guard res­cues more than a dozen out­side New Orleans

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Kevin McGill and Janet McCon­naughey

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.

MATTHEW HIN­TON/AP

A restau­rant owner wades through wa­ter surge from Lake Pontchar­train on Satur­day in Man­dev­ille, north of New Orleans.

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