NEW ORLEANS: New Orleans braced for severe flooding as a growing tropical storm in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico headed for landfall late on Friday or early on Saturday.
The tropical storm is the first Atlantic hurricane of 2019.
Amid the hurricane, US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the state of Louisiana late on Thursday. The region’s oil production was cut by half as energy companies evacuated offshore drilling facilities and a coastal refinery in wake of the impeding hurricane.
Tropical Storm Barry was packing maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (85 km/hour) early on Friday.
Authorities were keeping a watchful eye on the levee system built to contain flooding along the lower Mississippi River, which winds through the heart of New Orleans and has been running above flood stage for the past six months.
Barry was forecast to bring a coastal storm surge into the mouth of the river that could push its crest to 19 feet (5.9 m) on Saturday – a foot lower than initially predicted but still the highest level since 1950 and dangerously close to the top of the city’s levees.
Meteorologists predicted between 10 and 20 inches (25-50 cm) of rain along much of the Gulf Coast on Friday and Saturday.
The brunt of the storm was expected to skirt the western edge of New Orleans instead of making a direct hit. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that the city had not ordered any voluntary or mandatory evacuations, but added that 48 hours of heavy downpours could overwhelm pumps designed to purge streets and storm drains of excess water in the low-lying city.
Pumps were already working at capacity after heavy rains flooded streets on Wednesday, she said.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned: “The more information we get, the more concerned we are that this is going to be an extreme rain event.”