Louisiana Residents Evacuate as Tropical Storm Barry Develops in the Gulf, Threatening More Epic Flooding

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Samantha Kincaid was forced to evacuate during Hurricane Gustav in 2008, her first year in New Orleans. Now, she’s leaving again.

Wednesday’s widespread flooding in New Orleans made her uneasy, she told CNN in a Facebook message.

“Being stuck in the flood and then waiting for the waters to go down was a real wake up call,” said Kincaid, who plans to head to Lafayette, west of New Orleans. “I was lucky to not have my car stall out.”

As a dangerous weather system spinning toward the Gulf coast intensified Thursday to become Tropical Storm Barry, some Louisiana residents aren’t taking any chances and are choosing to evacuate. Others say they plan to ride the storm out.

Barry is the first tropical storm to threaten the United States this year. The forecast shows it as a strong tropical storm at landfall, possibly Saturday morning along the Louisiana coast, probably west of New Orleans. There is a significant chance that Barry could be a hurricane, with sustained winds of 74 miles per hour, when it makes landfall.

But it’s not the wind that makes this storm so treacherous. It’s the colossal rainfall and massive storm surge.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” the National Hurricane Center said. Those in the storm’s path should “take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions.

Streets in New Orleans have already been turned into lakes after getting pummeled with up to 9 inches of rain Wednesday — a full day before the system was declared a tropical storm.

Metropolitan New Orleans was under a tropical storm warning Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

Whether to stay or whether to go

Claire Hartley Grogan of New Orleans said she too was preparing to evacuate. She will probably head toward Florida and have a “hurrication.”

The Mississippi River was too high, and she was scared to stay.

“My entire life, I have lived blocks from the Mississippi River and not been scared. Today, and for the last month or so, [I] have been terrified,” she said.

Pamela Hughes said she will ride out the storm in her mother’s trailer in Port Sulphur, south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish, which is under a mandatory evacuation order.

But Hughes said she knows the risk and is staying, even though the trailer isn’t on high ground.

“I really don’t think it’s going to be too bad,” she said.

Hughes says she’s prepared with gas, food and water. She said the levels of the Mississippi River near Port Sulphur, and the nearby bayou, look low to her.

But Hughes said she evacuated her mother, who has breast cancer and recently got out of the hospital.

As of late Thursday afternoon, Barry was hurling winds of 40 mph in the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s expected to continue to intensify, the National Hurricane Center said.

Because Barry is a slow-moving storm — crawling across the Gulf at just 5 mph — it will hover over the same places for a long time, dropping relentless rain and adding to the widespread flooding.

The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane warnings Thursday afternoon for the Louisiana coast from Intracoastal City to Grand Isle.

The mayor and town council in Grand Isle, on a barrier island the Gulf of Mexico, ordered everyone to evacuate Thursday.

“We are expecting a rain fall total that can range from 6″ to 10″,” they said in a statement. “We will be experiencing unusual high tides that will range more than 3 feet above ground.”

Baton Rouge, the state’s capital, is inland and is expected to get 10 to 15 inches of rain. Resident Rusty Miller said that his experience with previous storm evacuations taught him to hunker down and hope the electricity stays on. He is staying put for now. But this time, he said, he’s worried about flooding.

“As long as this thing doesn’t stall, we should be fine,” Miller said.

Other Gulf states are also at risk. Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle are under the gun for extreme rain, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said Thursday.

An unprecedented challenge

Barry will inundate Louisiana at a terrible time: when rivers like the Mississippi are already extremely high.

“This is the 258th day of a flood fight on the Mississippi River,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

Unusually high river levels will lead to an unprecedented challenge when Barry makes landfall.

“This is the first time we’ve had a tropical system with water levels on the river this high,” said Jeffrey Graschel, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center.

In New Orleans, the Mississippi River was more than 16 feet high on Thursday. At this time of year, it should be more like 6 to 8 feet, Graschel said.

In the coming days, the river could crest at 19 feet, 1 foot lower than previously forecast. But the bloated river is still risky, because New Orleans is protected only to a height of 20 feet.

In preparation for the onslaught, Louisiana officials have started closing floodgates. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority has about 250 floodgates, spokesman Antwan Harris said.

More than 200 floodgates in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes are expected to be closed by Friday, local media reported.

How to prepare

Louisiana’s governor warned that “no one should take this storm lightly,” as 10 to 15 inches of rain could fall within 24 hours between Friday and Saturday.

Bel Edwards sent a letter to President Trump requesting a federal declaration of emergency as the storm approached. Bel Edwards has also declared a state of emergency and urged residents to have a contingency plan for family and pets.

“This is going to be a Louisiana event with coastal flooding and heavy rainfall potentially impacting every part of the state,” he said.

And just because the storm might max out as a Category 1 hurricane doesn’t mean it won’t be destructive. Hurricane categories denote only maximum sustained wind speeds, not rainfall or other factors.

“As we know all too well in Louisiana, low intensity does not necessarily mean low impact,” the governor said.

In New Orleans, officials urged residents to:

— Be ready to stay at home for days or leave at a moment’s notice.

— Have several days worth of nonperishable food at home.

— Move outdoor trash cans indoors, since fierce winds could turn heavy objects into projectiles.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott told residents to make plans now.

“Begin preparing your property, your supplies, your lines of communication to your family members,” Abbott said. “Begin preparing to know exactly where you need to go if you need to evacuate.”

Red Cross officials said disaster workers are standing by. It has relief supplies in Louisiana, Texas and other coastal communities for evacuation centers and shelters after landfall.

This storm could affect gas prices

Even if you live far inland, you could still get hit by the storm in terms of gas prices.

The tropical system is swirling near many of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore oil and gas operations in the area are evacuating their facilities, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

The companies have evacuated employees from 15 production platforms and four rigs. Three of the 20 rigs operating in the Gulf have also moved out of the path of the storm, it said.

Follow the storm here

Unlike drilling rigs, which typically move from location to location, production facilities stay in the same spot throughout a project’s duration.

And even days before landfall, US oil rose above $60 a barrel on Wednesday amid worries that the storm system could derail crude production in the Gulf of Mexico.

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