New Orleans — A possible tropical storm or even a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico creates two problems for southeastern Louisiana: the possibility that a high Mississippi river will hit the top of dikes this weekend and a danger of flooding like this oneWednesday.
A row of thunderstorms upstream of the disturbance dumped up to 8 inches of rain in parts of the metropolitan area in the space of three hours. The system is expected to strengthen on Thursday in a tropical depression, a tropical storm called Barry on Thursday night and likely a hurricane of low Friday.
According to forecasters, Louisiana could receive up to 12 inches of rain by Monday, while isolated areas would receive up to 18 inches. And the storm surge at the mouth of the Mississippi could also mean that a river that has been high for months will go up even higher.
Mississippi and Texas were also threatened by torrential rains.
On Thursday at 8 am, the system was 115 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi, moving west at 5 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center . The system is expected to approach the coast of Louisiana this weekend, the center said.
Hurricane monitoring was in effect for the Louisiana coast from the mouth of the Mississippi to Cameron.
New Orleans had a glimpse early Wednesday of what might be in store. According to media reports, a tornado could have caused wind damage in a home, while floodwaters were flooding downtown hotels and businesses, with the streets becoming small rivers for kayakers. The floods paralyzed rush-hour traffic and blocked cars around the city.
Everything happened quickly
"I have to work about a quarter to seven," said Donald Smith, who saw his restaurant at Basin Street flooded for the third time this year. "At 7:15, there was water everywhere."
This reminded us of memories of a sudden flood of 2017 that uncovered major problems – and resulted in profound personnel changes – at the Sewer and Water Board, which oversees the drainage of streets. City officials said the pumping system that drains the streets was at full capacity. But the huge amount of rain in three hours would overload any system, said Ghassan Korban, director of the Water and Sanitation Office.
Threats to the Upper Mississippi prompted officials at Plaquemines Parish, located in the southeastern tip of Louisiana, to order the evacuation of certain areas as of Thursday. A voluntary evacuation was called on Grand Isle, the vulnerable island community south of New Orleans. Governor John Bel Edwards declared a statewide emergency in the light of the storm that was rising.
To worry about levees
A spokesman for the Army Corps in New Orleans said the agency did not expect a widespread overtaking of dikes, but concerns exist regarding the areas south of the city. The meteorological service expects the river to reach 20 feet by Saturday morning with a level indicator in the New Orleans area, protected by dikes from 20 to 25 feet in height. That would be its highest level for nearly 70 years, reports WWL-TV, a subsidiary of CBS New Orleans.
The army corps was working with local authorities down the river to identify low-lying areas and strengthen them, said spokesman Ricky Boyett. He warned that the situation could change as more information arrives.
"We are confident that the dikes themselves are in good shape, the primary goal is height," said Boyett.
Edwards said that National Guard troops and high-seas vehicles would be positioned throughout the state before heavy rains.
"The entire coast of Louisiana is at stake in this storm," said the governor.
New Orleans officials have asked residents to keep at least three days of supplies and leave the nearby storm sewers open so that water can circulate quickly.
As the waters of Wednesday morning storms dwindled, people worried about what could happen.
Tanya Gulliver-Garcia was trying to go home during the Flood. The flooded streets turned about fifteen minutes by car into a hard test lasting more than two hours.
"It's going to be a slow storm … that's what worries me," she said.
Tourists Floyd and Missy Martin of Raleigh, North Carolina, were trying to make the most of the situation in a store with puddles on the floor where they were buying an umbrella, two bottles of merlot, chips and peanuts.
"We could drown our sorrows or make an adventure," joked Floyd Martin.