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US warnings of heavy rain, tornadoes from weakening storm Barry

US warnings of heavy rain, tornadoes from weakening storm Barry

NEW ORLEANS: Tropical Storm Barry buffeted the US state of Louisiana on Sunday, bringing more heavy rain and possible tornadoes to the region even as it weakened.

After briefly becoming the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, Barry was downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall on Saturday. It nevertheless moved insland with a serious punch.

While there were few indications yet of widespread flooding, Louisianans kept a wary eye on several rivers and canals being pushed to their limits by the torrential rainfall and by flooding upstream.

Rain fell in New Orleans, the state’s biggest city, on Sunday but there was little wind. Flights in and out of the city’s airport resumed after all were canceled on Saturday.

Thousands of people had abandoned their homes and tens of thousands lost power.

Fears that the levee system protecting New Orleans could be compromised eased after the Army Corps of Engineers voiced confidence that it would hold, but Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents not to be complacent.

“We are not in any way out of the woods,” she said, adding that flash flooding remained a threat to the city of 400,000 known for its Mardi Gras and jazz.

President Donald Trump on Sunday warned of “major flooding in large parts of Louisiana and all across the Gulf Coast.

“Please be very careful!” he said on Twitter.

At a late Saturday press conference, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told residents: “Don’t let your guard down thinking the worst is behind us.”

As of 11:00 am Sunday (1500 GMT), the storm’s maximum sustained winds had dropped further, to 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour. It was located southeast of Shreveport in western Louisiana, moving north at a leisurely nine miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said.

“Barry is forecast to weaken to a tropical depression later today,” the NHC said, adding that the storm should move over Arkansas late Sunday and early Monday.

Pete Gaynor, acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told Fox News “there are still life-threatening conditions” as Barry moves north.

“The rain is the threat,” he added, not only while it falls but in a couple of days when floodwaters move back down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tornadoes were possible in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, western Alabama, eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee, the NHC said.

Rainfall estimates had been lowered to between six and 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) over south-central Louisiana but rivers and canals across the state’s south were full.

The heavy winds scattered tree branches across roads and knocked down street signs. In St. John’s Parish next to New Orleans, local television footage showed some areas under two or more feet (60 centimeters) of water.

– Cajun Navy –

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The eye of the storm made landfall at Intracoastal City, a speck of a town with a few houses and businesses. Part of the main road was flooded Saturday afternoon, as were some waterfront businesses but by Sunday a storm surge warning that affected

Intracoastal City had been withdrawn.

News footage showed localized flooding, swollen waterways, and downed power lines and trees across south Louisiana. Rivers overtopped their levees in several locations, including part of coastal Terrebonne Parish, where authorities had issued a mandatory evacuation notice.

The Atchafalaya River swallowed the waterfront pedestrian promenade in Morgan City, which was entirely without power, as about 10 members of America’s Cajun Navy citizen rescue group assembled under a highway overpass.

“We’re just neighbors helping neighbors,” John Billiot, 39, the group’s president, told AFP.

The group has conducted volunteer rescues since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

This time it assembled five flat-bottom rescue boats, a high-clearance, military-style truck and 86 other boats across the region in preparation for the latest storm.

For many, the storm and potential for large-scale flooding revived unpleasant memories of Katrina. While thousands of Louisianans packed up and left their homes as the storm approached, others hunkered down to ride out the squall, sometimes defying mandatory evacuation orders.

In northern New Orleans, just half a block from Lake Pontchartrain, retired postal worker Mike Pisciotta shrugged off Barry’s local effects.

“It hasn’t really been anything” in New Orleans, he said, while acknowledging that other areas were harder hit. “I guess we are lucky.”

Pisciotta, 72, said he had a “hurricane party” with neighbors Saturday night in a playful effort to keep the storm at bay.

– Dangerous conditions –

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But experts say other parts of Louisiana continue to face a dangerous confluence of conditions. The Mississippi River, already swollen from historic rains and flooding upstream, is just below flood stage.

In 2005, Katrina — the costliest and deadliest hurricane in recent US history — submerged about 80 percent of New Orleans after the city’s levee system failed, causing about 1,800 deaths and more than $150 billion in damage.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2019