NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Building toward hurricane strength, Tropical Storm Barry began hitting Louisiana with wind and rain Friday as it closed in what could be a long, slow - and epic - drenching that could trigger flooding in and around New Orleans.
With the storm expected to blow ashore by early Saturday, National Guard troops and rescue crews were stationed around the state with boats and high-water vehicles, helicopters were on standby, drinking water and blankets were made ready for distribution, utility crews with bucket trucks moved into position, and homeowners sandbagged their property or packed up and left.
Tropical Storm Barry's wind and rain began hitting parts of Louisiana Friday as New Orleans and coastal communities braced for a drenching from what could be the season's first hurricane.
A hurricane warning was in effect along the Louisiana coast, with forecasters predicting landfall as a hurricane by early Saturday.
The storm's rains are expected to pose a severe test of New Orleans' improved post-Katrina flood defenses. Barry is forecast to bring more than a foot and a half of rain to parts of the state as it moves slowly inland.
"There are three ways that Louisiana can flood: storm surge, high rivers and rain," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. "We're going to have all three."
Edwards warned of a dangerous combination with the already-high Mississippi River, which has been swelled by heavy rain and snowmelt upriver this spring. He said authorities do not expect the river to spill over its levees, but cautioned that a change in the storm's direction or intensity could alter that.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said pockets of Louisiana could have as much as 25 inches of rain.
Tropical Storm Barry is disorganized, but still having a very far-reaching effect on the Gulf of Mexico. The rain bands are about 1,000 miles wide! It's still aimed at Louisiana and the main threat is flooding there as well as across Mississippi. pic.twitter.com/6KLoyYHlwV— Mike Iscovitz (@Fox26Mike) July 12, 2019
"So here's the takeaway: Dangerous situation," he said during an online presentation Thursday. "That kind of rainfall in this system could cause flash flooding, cause ponding of water."
National Guard troops and rescue crews were stationed around the state with boats and high-water vehicles. Helicopters were also on standby, and supplies including drinking water and blankets were ready for distribution, the Guard said.
President Donald Trump declared a federal emergency for Louisiana, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts.
As of Friday morning, Barry was about 95 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi, with winds around 50 mph, well short of the 74 mph hurricane threshold.
Tracking forecasts showed the brunt of the storm blowing into the Louisiana delta west of New Orleans on a path that could continue toward Chicago, swelling the Mississippi River basin with water that must eventually flow south again.
Tropical Storm Barry has formed! Good news for Texas, bad news for Louisiana and Mississippi. Max winds are currently 40 mph and the forecast track has remained fixed on The Vermillion Bay area of Louisiana. Effects on us? Possible coastal t'storms. pic.twitter.com/gGzdduKj3Z— Mike Iscovitz (@Fox26Mike) July 11, 2019
About 10,000 people in Plaquemines Parish on Louisiana's low-lying southeastern tip were ordered evacuated on Thursday.
Among the last to leave were 65-year-old Clarence Brocks and his family. The Plaquemines Parish native evacuated many times before and had to rebuild after Katrina wiped out his home. But he said he wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
"I was born and raised here. This is all I know," the Air Force veteran said. "I've been all over the world and guess where I want to be at? Right here."
With lightning flashing in the distance and some streets already covered with water from heavy rains, shoppers at an Albertsons grocery store in Baton Rouge stripped shelves bare of bread. Half the bottled water was gone.
Kaci Douglas and her 15-year-old son, Juan Causey, were among dozens filling sandbags at a fire station in Baton Rouge. She planned to put the bags around the door of her townhouse. "I told my son it's better to be safe than sorry," she said.
Meanwhile, utility crews who may be needed after the storm filled hotel parking lots along Interstate 59 in southern Mississippi.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Thursday that the pumping system that drains the city's streets was working as designed after the rain and flash floods earlier this week but that Barry could dump water faster than the pumps can move it.
"We cannot pump our way out of the water levels ... that are expected to hit the city of New Orleans," she warned.
However, the city did not plan to order evacuations because Barry was so close and because it was not expected to grow into a major hurricane. Officials instead advised people to keep at least three days of supplies on hand and to keep their neighborhood storm drains clear so water can move quickly.
Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic flooding in New Orleans 14 years ago and was blamed altogether for more than 1,800 deaths in Louisiana and other states, by some estimates.
In its aftermath, the Army Corps of Engineers began a multibillion-dollar hurricane-protection system that isn't complete. The work included repairs and improvements to some 350 miles of levees and more than 70 pump stations that are used to remove floodwaters.
Associated Press reporters Chevel Johnson and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans, Sarah Blake Morgan in Plaquemines Parish and Jay Reeves in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.
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