Barry bears down; voluntary evacuations in area, emergencies declared
Officials called for voluntary evacuations in lower St. Martin and St. Mary parishes south of the Intracoastal Waterway on Thursday as Tropical Storm Barry continued to move toward landfall in this area late Friday or early Saturday. On Friday, officials also issued a voluntary evacuation for all of St. Mary Parish.
In an appearance Thursday in Morgan City, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Barry could come ashore as a Category 1 hurricane (see related story) with winds just above the 74 mph threshold. But the title will be less important than the impact: a possible 15-20 inches of rain through Sunday in east St. Mary and a potentially dangerous storm surge when the Atchafalaya is already over flood stage.
President Donald Trump on Thursday night declared a federal declaration of emergency for Louisiana, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.
Local governments moved to declare emergencies to put themselves in line for state and federal resources and financial aid.
The St. Mary School Board declared an emergency at Thursday’s meeting. Morgan City’s council called for a meeting Thursday and Berwick’s council for Friday for the same purpose.
Public works officials in St. Mary communities scrambled to clear obstructions and even deepen or widen portions of the drainage system.
The Atchafalaya River at Morgan City was at 7.5 feet Thursday night, or 1.5 feet over flood stage.
A storm surge of 3-6 feet is being forecast for the mouth of the Atchafalaya to Shell Beach. The river is expected to go to 9 feet Sunday and fall quickly, according to the National Weather Service.
Louisiana’s low-lying southeastern tip was getting hit first. Many heeded evacuation orders affecting 10,000 people in Plaquemines Parish, leaving communities largely empty by Thursday afternoon.
Among the last to leave the town of Phoenix was 65-year-old Clarence Brocks and his family. The Plaquemines Parish native has evacuated many times and had to rebuild after Katrina wiped out his home. But he said that he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, despite the yearly threat of hurricanes.
“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.”
Jesse Schaffer III of Meraux in St. Bernard Parish to the north was helping his relatives in Plaquemines Parish get to family members’ houses in safer areas. He said around 20 relatives were staying with him and his wife because their house is safer.
“We’re trying to evacuate and get all of our family members up and go to St. Bernard Parish,” he said.
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 by Thursday night. Half the shelves normally filled with bottled water were empty.
A radar loop of Barry filled a TV screen at a brewery near downtown. Nearby, the sign outside a convenience store read: “Barry needs a beer and a nap.”
Meanwhile, utility crews with bucket trucks that could be needed after the storm filled hotel parking lots along Interstate 59 in southern Mississippi.
The National Hurricane Center said as much as 20 inches of rain could fall in parts of eastern Louisiana, including Baton Rouge, and the entire region could get as much as 10 inches. The New Orleans area could get 10 to 15 inches through Sunday, forecasters said.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Thursday that the pumping system that drains the city’s streets is working as designed 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 in 2005 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.