This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 5 °C Friday 13 December, 2019
Advertisement

Millions of US residents braced as Storm Barry nears hurricane strength as it approaches coast

Forecasters predict heavy rains, a potential storm surge and flooding reminiscent of 2005′s Hurricane Katrina.

Alan and Dot Richardson wear ponchos as they walk along Bourbon Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Alan and Dot Richardson wear ponchos as they walk along Bourbon Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Image: David J. Phillip

MILLIONS OF RESIDENTS in Louisiana are today braced for Tropical Storm Barry, which is threatening the southern US state and its largest city New Orleans with potentially disastrous rainfall and flooding.

Authorities ramped up evacuations, airlines cancelled flights and flood gates slammed shut as the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast the strengthening storm would reach hurricane status today and roar ashore along the state’s central coast.

The large storm system currently in the Gulf of Mexico brings heavy rains, a potential storm surge and flooding that pose a threat reminiscent of 2005′s deadly Hurricane Katrina.

Thousands packed up and left their homes as flood waters hit low-lying areas like Plaquemines Parish, where road closures left some communities isolated as they braced for Barry’s arrival.

By early Saturday the storm was packing winds of 100 kilometres per hour, just shy of hurricane strength, and around 193 kilometres south-west of New Orleans, according to the NHC.

Dozens took shelter in Plaquemines’s Belle Chasse auditorium, while others headed inland to stay with friends or relatives and avoid what the NHC called “life-threatening flooding” to coastal and river areas.

Governor John Bel Edwards said New Orleans was well prepared to withstand the storm, but urged vigilance by residents across the state, as authorities called on people to stay off the streets.

“No one should take this storm lightly, and I urge everyone to remain informed,” Edwards said on Twitter.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged people to stay indoors last night, but the city’s famed party atmosphere was far from extinguished just hours ahead of the storm.

In the French Quarter entertainment district, revelers wearing plastic bead necklaces drank “hurricane” cocktails and sang arm in arm as they walked down Bourbon Street, while couples danced to a zydeco band in the Tropical Isle’s Bayou Club.

Tropical Weather The flood wall near the Long-Allen Bridge in Morgan City Source: Rogelio V. Solis/PA Images

If the storm becomes a hurricane, it would be the first of the Atlantic season, which runs from June to November.

With Barry threatening massive rainfall across several southern states, federal emergency declarations were issued to help free up resources to address the storm.

“We could be looking at widespread major flooding across several river basins,” the NHC said.

Some Plaquemines residents were battening down to ride out the storm, despite mandatory evacuation orders.

“We’ve stayed for some pretty strong storms and we shouldn’t have,” said Keith Delahoussaye, a 60-year-old mechanic, at his trailer home in Port Sulphur.

But he was keeping a close eye on the nearby Mississippi River. “If we see the water rising here, we’ll leave.”

Tropical Weather St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office inmate workers move free sandbags for residents in Chalmette Source: Matthew Hinton/PA Images

Donald Brown, operations manager for Plaquemines Medical Center, said most people had evacuated.

“I’d say they fear it every time,” said Brown, 58, who survived Katrina and was staying behind to look after the medical centre.

Dangerous conditions

Louisiana is facing an extraordinarily dangerous confluence of conditions, experts said.

The level of the Mississippi River, already swollen from historic rains and flooding upstream, was at 4.9 metres in New Orleans, one foot shy of flood stage.

River levels are expected to peak at 5.2 metres, according to a forecast late yesterday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But with storm surges of three to six feet projected, and 25 to 50 cm of rain forecast, the river could still breach the 20-foot-high levee system protecting the city of 400,000.

“Much of the Gulf coast, especially Louisiana, are already at extremely high water levels and so the heavy rains and any potential storm surge will lead to dangerous flash flooding,” Jill Trepanier, an expert at Louisiana State University, said in a statement.

Tropical Weather Workers board up windows in the French Quarter, New Orleans Source: David J. Phillip/PA Images

Mike Yenni, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, said the community had taken the “unprecedented” step of closing hundreds of flood gates, largely due to the high levels of the Mississippi.

Authorities closed highways in several locations along the coast as flood waters began creeping in.

In St John’s Parish next to New Orleans, some communities were under two or more feet of water, local television footage showed.

Grand Isle, one of the inhabited barrier islands east of the storm’s likely path, suffered a full power outage yesterday which brought crucial pumping stations to a halt, authorities said.

Residents and business owners in New Orleans were laying down sand bags and boarding up windows while city officials set up shelters for residents.

In 2005, Katrina submerged about 80% of New Orleans, causing some 1,800 deaths and more than $150 billion in damage.

The city’s main sports arena, the Superdome, was turned into an emergency shelter during Katrina. The facility was due to host a concert by the Rolling Stones tomorrow, but it was postponed by a day due to Barry.

“We’re here with you – we’ll get through this together,” the band said in a statement.

- © AFP 2019

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

AFP

Read next:

COMMENTS (2)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel