Storm Barry has made landfall near Intercoastal, La., about 100 miles west of New Orleans.
The storm, which currently has sustained winds of 70 miles per hour and was briefly a Category 1 hurricane, has weakened and become a tropical storm. It is continuing to drench the Gulf Coast causing heavy rains and dangerous storm surge.
Tornadoes also remain possible from southeast Louisiana to southern Mississippi and southern Alabama.
Experts warn that the water the storm brings is potentially more dangerous than the wind alone. About 10 to 20 inches of rain are expected, with as much as 25 inches possible locally.
“Although the center is now over land, the rainfall threat is just beginning for many locations,” the National Hurricane Center said on Twitter.
Homes in the path of the storm have begun to lose power. As of Saturday afternoon, energy company Entergy reported that about 71,443 of its customers in Louisiana were out of power. Cleco, another utility, reported that more than 21,000 of its customers in the state are out of power.
Declaration of emergency issued
President Donald Trump has declared a federal emergency in Louisiana, which authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts, ahead of Barry’s expected landfall. It also gives the state access to federal emergency resources ahead of the storm’s approach.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency during a press conference Thursday, warning of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall.
“I would remind everyone this is the 258th consecutive day of the flood fight on the Mississippi River. That is the longest in history,” he said. “And if Tropical Storm Barry becomes a hurricane as we fully expect it will, this will be the first time that we’ve had a hurricane make landfall in Louisiana while the Mississippi River was at flood stage. And it isn’t just the Mississippi. We have elevated river levels across Louisiana.”
On Friday morning, New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell warned residents to make their final preparations. Writing on Twitter, Cantrell reminded residents to gather emergency supplies — including water, food and medication for at least three days and to prepare their properties for heavy rain and wind. Cantrell announced people should take shelter by 8 p.m. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority announced it would also suspend services starting at 8 p.m.
The Mississippi River at New Orleans is forecast to crest at 19 feet Saturday evening, the highest level in nearly 70 years, according to the National Weather Service. As the storm nears, it could worsen ongoing flooding in New Orleans and the surrounding area.
National Hurricane Center
The National Hurricane Center has predicted storm surges of up to 5 feet at Lake Pontchartrain outside New Orleans and issued hurricane watches and warnings along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.
What path is the storm expected to take?
Barry, currently heading northwest, is expected to turn north later in the weekend.
Barry is expected to produce up to 15 inches of rain along the Gulf Coast through early next week, and up to 20 inches of rainfall across portions of eastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi. Some isolated areas could be hit with a maximum of 25 inches.
National Hurricane Center
The storm is forecasted to bring up to 15 inches of rain along the Gulf Coast, with up to 20 inches of rain along some parts of eastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi. A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Intercoastal City to Grand Isle. A tropical storm warnings it in effect from the mouth of the Pearl River to Grand Isle.
A Tropical Storm Warning is also in effect in New Orleans and the area surrounding Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas.
Graham said storm surge warnings were in effect for major portions of Louisiana’s coast, noting that strong winds will push water into those areas, particularly south of Lafayette. Other parts of the coast are expected to receive 3 to 6 feet of storm surge. He added that the winds’ impact is expected to be felt Friday night into Saturday morning, and that residents who do not evacuate are at risk from flash flooding.
“You have to be careful with that,” he emphasized. “[In] the last three years 83% of fatalities [from] these tropical systems has been inland flooding. Listen to local officials, when you start getting these road closures, don’t move the barricades… don’t drive into that water. Let’s try to prevent these fatalities.”
What are the flooding risks?
There are 295 levee systems constructed throughout Louisiana, protecting much of the coastline, New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain and north along the Mississippi River, forming 3,179 miles of levees.
After levees failed to protect New Orlean’s during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, billions of dollars was spent to make adjustments like adding height, planting vegetation as reinforcement and adding barriers to Lake Pontchartrain, along which every flood gate has been closed. Tropical Storm Barry will be the first test to see if the levee adjustments hold up.
A cyclist rides past a flood gate that has been closed to keep the Mississippi River from inundating the French Quarter with storm surge from Hurricane Barry on July 12, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Scott Olson—Getty Images
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Edward is not worried about rivers rising higher than the levees, and has said the system is “stronger than ever.” But said changes in the storm’s path and intensity could change that, and “you never know what Mother Nature is going to serve until she has served it,” he cautioned Friday.
On Saturday, local journalists shared video and photos that showed major flooding.
What is predicted in New Orleans?
New Orleans, which has already been drenched by up to 9 inches of rain from a previous storm, faces more heavy rainfall and potential flash flooding.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning and a tropical storm warning for the city, as well as a storm surge watch and a flash flood watch. The forecast also calls for several rounds of showers and storms through the weekend that are expected to bring 10 to 20 inches of rain, which may lead to flash flooding.
The National Hurricane Center said the rapid rise in small streams and creeks in the area will result in flooding on some rivers and rapid ponding of water that may overwhelm local drainage capacities due to excessive rainfall. The AP also reports Mayor Cantrell has said the city’s pumping system may not be able to drain water faster than the rain pours down.
Megan Williams, meteorologist with the National Weather Service New Orleans, says that the worst is set to come Friday overnight into Saturday morning. Williams tells TIME that residents should expect up to 3 inches of rain in New Orleans Friday “and then really overnight into tomorrow it’s going to really ramp up as the storm moves through.”
According to Williams, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are especially under risk because of heavy rainfall. Of New Orleans specifically, “half of the city is under high risk, half is under a moderate risk,” she says. Because of the elevation they’re [both] prone to flash flooding.”
Residents and local news outlets began sharing videos and photos of waterlogged streets, hotel lobbies and cars on Wednesday.
A storm surge of 3 to 6 feet is expected from the mouth of the Pearl River just east of New Orleans to Intracoastal City, south of Lafayette. The storm surge warning has been extended westward to Intracoastal City.
How are people in the storm’s path getting ready?
“No one should take this storm lightly,” Gov. Edwards told Louisianans in a press conference earlier this week. “This is going to be a significant weather event, and if you haven’t already done so, the time to prepare is now,” he added on Twitter.
“As we know all too well in Louisiana, low intensity does not necessarily mean low impact. Now is the time to check your emergency supplies and get a game plan for your family and pets. I urge the public to continue monitoring local media for weather developments and follow the directions of local officials,” Edwards said in a statement. An emergency order is currently scheduled to be in place until Aug. 8.
State agencies have also announced that they’re mobilizing to prepare for the storm.
The Costal Protection and Restoration Authority said on Twitter that it is coordinating the closure of the state’s floodgates. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development also made various preparations for the storm, clearing out debris from ditches and staging barricades near roadways.
Various schools, including Loyola University New Orleans and Tulane University, are closing during the storm.
President Donald Trump approved a federal declaration of emergency Thursday night for Louisiana, which authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts, ahead of Barry’s expected landfall.
Airbnb is doing their part to help those displaced by the storm through their “Open Homes Program.” As of Friday afternoon there are currently 82 Airbnb host in the gulf coast area that are opening up their homes for free until July 31 for displaced neighbors and relief workers deployed to help.