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Tropical system takes aim at St. Mary

The tropical system looming off flood-weary St. Mary Parish moved closer overnight. The center of the latest National Hurricane Center forecast track now indicates a landfall somewhere near St. Mary’s western boundary as a Category 1 hurricane Saturday.
That would put the Tri-City area on the east side of the storm, where winds, rain and the storm surge are often strongest.
The major threat is predicted to be rainfall of up to 18 inches in isolated areas. The storm surge could reach 6 feet.
At 7 a.m., Thursday, the system packed winds of 35 mph. The center was about 223 miles southeast of Morgan City.
Forecast models Thursday morning showed the track of the disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico had definitely shifted to the east and more toward St. Mary Parish compared to Wednesday afternoon, said David Naquin, director of the St. Mary Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
If the storm develops, it could possibly go toward Cypremort Point, Naquin said. Parish officials continue to make preparations and meet twice daily to discuss updates on the storm. As of Thursday morning, officials were in “wait and see” mode as to what the storm may actually do, Naquin said.
The National Hurricane Center forecast showed the disturbance was not a depression yet but expected to be one Thursday morning. Storm surge, heavy rain and hurricane conditions are possible across the north-central Gulf Coast in a couple of days, the forecast said.
A forecast Thursday morning showed the storm could go into the Atchafalaya River, said Todd Mogged, observing program leader with the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles office. Forecasters predict a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet from Pearl River to Intracoastal City.
A storm surge watch for the mouth of the Pearl River to Intracoastal City, tropical storm watch for the mouth of the Mississippi River north to the mouth of the Pearl River and hurricane watch for the mouth of the Mississippi River to Cameron are all in effect.
Morgan City officials planned to close several more floodgates along the Atchafalaya by Thursday, Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi said. Workers plan to close gates at Onstead, Terrebonne and Belanger streets, Levee Road, and two gates by PMI on Youngs Road. No more gates would have to be closed unless the river reaches 8.9 feet, Grizzaffi said.
With the change in the storm track overnight, Berwick officials decided to close all of the town floodgates Thursday. Those gates are at Gus, Mound, Texas, California and Canton streets, Mayor Duval Arthur said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Tim Matte, executive director of the St. Mary Levee District, said the storm, combined with a strong south wind, had the potential to raise the Atchafalaya River level several inches.
The National Weather Service forecast shows the Atchafalaya remaining at 7.6 feet during the next few days.
Officials expect that a storm surge could cause some rise in the Atchafalaya River, Matte said. Also, some models of the storm’s track had shown a strong southerly wind could occur after the storm makes landfall, he said.
The last time the area had strong sustained winds of about 20 mph was in early June. Those winds caused the river to jump from around 8 feet to about 8.7 feet, Matte said.
“We’re still at 7.6 (feet). So if we had that scenario and jumped up seven-tenths of a foot or something like that, that would put us back over 8 feet again not to mention the potential for storm surge,” Matte said.
The temporary floodgate in Bayou Chene has been in place for over a month to help protect the region from backwater flooding. Matte doesn’t expect heavy rain to cause drainage issues in the vicinity of Bayou Chene. Prior significant rainfall hasn’t caused drainage problems with the floodgate installed.
However, this is the first time the structure has been in place “when we’ve encountered a tropical storm,” Matte said.
“I still think the area is better off, because we’re holding back 1.8 feet, right now, of water,” Matte said of the Bayou Chene temporary floodgate.
Still, having the Bayou Chene structure in use with the threat of a tropical storm or hurricane “will be a new experience for us,” Matte said.
Authorities plan to close the Franklin Canal barge gate Friday in anticipation of the storm, Matte said.
The St. Mary Parish School Board said its offices will be closed Friday.
The Bayou BBQ Bash and the Bikers on the Bayou event slated for Saturday have been called off. Bikers on the Bayou has been rescheduled for Aug. 24.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and planned a briefing after meeting with emergency preparedness officials.
Storm surge watch has been extended from the mouth of the Pearl River to Intracoastal City. A storm surge watch means there is a possibility of life- threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the indicated locations during the next 48 hours.
A hurricane watch is in effect from the mouth of the Mississippi to Cameron Parish.
A tropical storm watch is in effect from the mouth of the Mississippi to the mouth of the Pearl River.
A tropical storm watch means winds of 39 mph or higher are expected within 48 hours. A hurricane watch means winds of at least 74 mph are expected within 48 hours.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers these safety tips for the 36 hours before a hurricane strikes:
—Turn on your TV or radio in order to get the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.
—Restock your emergency preparedness kit. Include food and water sufficient for at least three days, medications, a flashlight, batteries, cash, and first aid supplies.
—Plan how to communicate with family members if you lose power. For example, you can call, text, email or use social media. Remember that during disasters, sending text messages is usually reliable and faster than making phone calls because phone lines are often overloaded.
—Review your evacuation zone, evacuation route and shelter locations. Plan with your family. You may have to leave quickly so plan ahead.
—Keep your car in good working condition, and keep the gas tank full; stock your vehicle with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.
—If you have NFIP flood insurance, your policy may cover up to $1,000 in loss avoidance measures, like sandbags and water pumps, to protect your insured property. You should keep copies of all receipts and a record of the time spent performing the work. They should be submitted to your insurance adjuster when you file a claim to be reimbursed.
Staff members Zachary Fitzgerald and Bill Decker did the reporting for this story.

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