Building toward hurricane strength, Tropical Storm Barry began hitting Louisiana with wind and rain Friday as it closed in for what could be a long, slow and epic drenching that could trigger severe flooding in and around New Orleans.
With the storm expected to blow ashore by early Saturday as the first hurricane of the season, National Guard troops and rescue crews were posted around the state with boats, high-water vehicles and helicopters. Drinking water was lined up.
Utility repair crews with bucket trucks moved into position in the region. Homeowners sandbagged their property or packed up and left. And tourists crowded New Orleans' airport in hopes of catching an early flight and getting out of town ahead of the storm.
"This is happening. ... Your preparedness window is shrinking," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned. He added: "It's powerful. It's strengthening. And water is going to be a big issue."
Forecasters said slow-moving Barry could unload 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 centimeters) of rain through Sunday across a swath of Louisiana that includes New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well as southwestern Mississippi, with pockets in Louisiana getting 25 inches (63 centimeters).
Some low-lying roads near the coast were already covered with water Friday morning as the tide rose and the storm pushed water in from the Gulf of Mexico.
Barry was expected to roll in as a weak hurricane, just barely over the 74 mph (119 kph) windspeed threshold. But authorities warned people not to be fooled by that.
"Nobody should take this storm lightly just because it's supposed to be a Category 1 when it makes landfall," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
"The real danger in this storm was never about the wind anyway. It's always been about the rain." Barry's downpours could prove to be a severe test of the improvements made to New Orleans' flood defenses since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Mississippi River is already running abnormally high because of heavy spring rains and snowmelt upstream, and the ground around New Orleans is soggy because of an 8-inch torrent of rain earlier this week.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)