NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Storm Barry moved deeper inland Saturday night, dumping heavy rain and overtopping levees in areas along the Louisiana coastline.
The storm was briefly upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning but quickly weakened to a tropical storm when it made landfall near Intracoastal City, Louisiana, later in the afternoon. By Saturday night, it was crawling north-northwest at 8 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In St. Mary Parish, about 60 miles east of where Barry made landfall, 64-year-old Joyce Webber and about 20 others huddled inside the Baldwin Community Center to take refuge from the storm. Some of them relaxed on cots, paging through books, while parents tried to keep their children entertained.
Webber, a cook at a Cajun restaurant, had just found out a large tree branch had fallen on her mobile home and her storm door had blown off.
“Trailers don’t hold, no matter what type of storm,” she told CNN. “They just don’t hold.”
But she could see the silver-lining. “It’s good to see your neighbors here,” Webber said. “The blessing is coming together. It feels like a family in times like these.”
Barry was forecast to continue moving inland through Saturday night, the hurricane center said, and it was expected to weaken further into a tropical depression on Sunday.
Tropical storm-force winds extended up to 175 miles outward from the storm’s center, but the rainfall always posed the greatest threat. Barry’s slow trek north means residents through the lower Mississippi Valley will see extended periods of rainfall that could prompt heavy flooding. And there’s plenty of rain on the way, according to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.
“Ninety-five percent of this storm is still in the Gulf of Mexico,” Myers said Saturday evening. As the storm continues to move north, more of the system will hover over land. “And that’s where the rain is going to come from.”
Levees overtop in Plaquemines Parish
The effects of the storm were already being felt in communities along the Louisiana coast Saturday.
Levees were overtopped Saturday in Plaquemines Parish, southeast of New Orleans, where mandatory evacuations were put in place for residents of low-lying areas earlier this week.
Footage from local authorities showed water inundating fields as it spilled over the side of the levee, which Louisiana Gov. Jon Bel Edwards said was a back levee near Myrtle Grove, and not a levee for the Mississippi River.
“We actually anticipated that the back levee would be overtopped,” he added, “so we are not surprised by what has happened.”
The overtopping occurred in multiple locations, but in less populated areas of the parish, according to Kirk Lepine, the president of Plaquemines Parish. There was a concern, he said, that Highway 23 could become covered in water and that residents who had not left the area would become trapped.
Residents of Mandeville, just north of New Orleans, were also impacted. Ludovico Torri told CNN he woke Saturday to find Lake Pontchartrain lapping at his home.
“The entire street and area under the house was under water,” Torri said.
“We’re stuck in the house with four kids, and the car is almost flooding,” he added, noting that within an hour and a half, the water had risen a foot. “The wind’s getting stronger and the water is rising and rising.”
The National Hurricane Center Saturday evening was still warning residents of the coast that they could see a dangerous storm surge. There were storm surge warnings in effect for everyone from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to Biloxi, Mississippi, and for Lake Pontchartrain.
‘Stay vigilant and be safe’
State, local and federal officials have spent days preparing for the storm and possible impacts and continued to emphasize their readiness after Barry made landfall.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued across the region in low-lying areas and those outside public levee protection, according to the governor’s office, while some areas had voluntary evacuation warnings.
Evacuation orders were still being instituted as late as Saturday afternoon. At that time, 330 households along Highway 315 and Brady Road were put under mandatory evacuation orders in Terrebonne Parish, parish spokesman Mart Black told CNN. It was unclear how many residents would be impacted.
Officials in Lafourche Parish also posted a recommended evacuation notice for parts of the parish, due to overtopping of the levee system in Point Aux Chenes. The recommendation followed a prior mandatory evacuation for areas south of the Leon Theriot Flood Gate on Friday night.
According to Gov. Edwards’ office, nearly 3,000 National Guards troops had been deployed throughout the state for potential storm response, and the Louisiana Emergency Operations Center remains fully active and staffed around the clock.
“This storm has our attention,” Edwards said in a statement Saturday. “While most of the rain right now is in the Gulf, we know that it will be coming ashore and impacting a large portion of the state. We are asking that everyone stay vigilant and be safe.”
“The people of Louisiana are resilient,” he added, “and while the next few days may be challenging, I am confident that we are going to get through this.”