Louisiana evacuates, hunkers down ahead of Barry

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(Image from Gov. Edwards Facebook page)

By David Jacobs, The Center Square

State and federal officials will be as ready as possible for Tropical Storm Barry before nightfall, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday, and he urged residents to do the same.

“Be where you want to be and have what you need to have on hand in order to protect yourself and your family,” he said.

Barry is expected to be a Category 1 hurricane by the time it makes landfall Saturday morning in south-central Louisiana near Morgan City. It could produce tropical storm-force winds as far north as Alexandria, Edwards said.

But rain will be the real danger. Much of the state could receive between 10 and 20 inches of rain over 24 hours, with some areas getting more than two feet.

“It’s impossible to know exactly where the heaviest rains will fall,” Edwards said. “We expect a number of [rivers] to be at flood stage very quickly and to cause significant problems. It’s impossible to say which ones.”

When the ground is fully saturated with water, Edwards noted, it doesn’t take much wind to knock over a tree or pole, so residents need to be prepared for widespread power outages.

Mandatory or voluntary evacuations have been called for a number of areas of the state, including parts of Lafourche, Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Mary parishes, as well as Grand Isle.

“We do expect to have to conduct search-and-rescue missions,” Edwards said, adding that 3,000 National Guard members are mobilized and more than 300 buses have been staged. A “mega-shelter” is ready to open in Alexandria for people who are rescued, he said.

“We have shelters opening rapidly across the state,” said Marketa Walters, who leads the state Department of Children and Family Services. She said residents can call 211 with any questions about shelters near them.

The federal government has approved the state’s request for an emergency declaration, which means federal resources will be available during and immediately after the storm.

“This is a state and federal teamwork,” U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said.

For the first time ever, all of the floodgates in the hurricane risk-reduction system in the New Orleans area have been closed. The Mississippi River is projected to reach 19 feet at the Carrolton Gauge, which means the levees are not expected to be overtopped as was feared earlier in the week.

“The levees are stronger than they have ever been,” Edwards said. “The system is tighter than it has ever been.”

Officials urged everyone to stay informed and heed the advice of local authorities. They urged motorists not to drive through standing water, which is the cause of most recent flood fatalities.

Drivers can check 511la.org for real-time information about road closures. Information about how to prepare for major storms is available at getagameplan.org.

Edwards said the flooding was not expected to be as severe as that caused by the unnamed storms of August 2016, which left 13 people dead and caused more than $10 billion in damage. But he still urged residents to be vigilant and cautious.

“No one should take this storm lightly just because it’s supposed to be a Category 1,” he said