New Orleans left underwater as city races to prepare for approaching storm
By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
July 12, 2019, 12:21:44 AM EDT
Severe thunderstorms prompted tornado warnings and inundated downtown New Orleans on Wednesday morning, causing travel to be disrupted and forcing the closure of City Hall. The flooding occurred as a brewing tropical system, which has become Tropical Storm Barry, gathered strength over the Gulf of Mexico.
A flash flood emergency was declared in Jefferson Parish, with nearly 8 inches of rain reported in some areas. A total of 6.27 inches was observed at the heliport in downtown New Orleans, while Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in the northwestern part of the city reported 1.54 inches. In Bridge City, located southwest of downtown, 7.75 inches of rain fell.
New Orleans city officials and those with the National Weather Service urged residents to stay off the roads and to seek higher ground if they encountered flooding. An EarthCam posted in the French Quarter captured video of the city's iconic Bourbon Street underwater as cars navigated the intersection and heavy rain continued falling. Between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. local time, about 5.56 inches fell in downtown New Orleans.
"Heavy downpours will still be a threat over the coming days as Barry moves by just off of the coast to the south," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda said.
(AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
(AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
(AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Barry has the potential to unleash a deluge of more than 2 feet of rain on parts of the Gulf states, which Sojda said poses a dangerous situation for the Louisiana coastline.
"This weekend looks to carry the most significant flooding threat for southern Louisiana, as Tropical Storm Barry makes landfall in southwestern Louisiana," Sojda said. He added, "Areas to the east of the landfall point are expected to see the heaviest rain this weekend, with 20-plus inches possible in spots. This threat includes New Orleans."
The heavy rain on Wednesday and the approaching precipitation from Barry over the Gulf fueled flooding concerns and sparked evacuations in and around New Orleans.
Offshore oil operators in the Gulf of Mexico have already evacuated platforms and rigs, KATC reports.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the east bank of Plaquemines Parish starting at 6 a.m. Thursday. Parts of the west bank are also under a mandatory evacuation, spanning from the Oakville floodgate south to Venice.
Voluntary evacuations were also issued starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday for the same areas.
Additionally, Mayor David Camardelle of Grand Isle issued a voluntary evacuation just after 3 p.m. CDT as a precautionary measure.
Earlier this week, the New Orleans branch of the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast the Mississippi River to crest at 20 feet Friday night into Saturday. Levees in New Orleans are able to protect the city from surges up to 20 feet, creating the possibility for a disaster. The NWS said officials there are coordinating closely with the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Hurricane Center and urged residents in the area to be vigilant about monitoring for updates in the coming days about potential flooding.
However, on Thursday, the river level forecast showed the river was expected to crest at 19 feet on Saturday, just below major flood stage.
To prepare for Tropical Storm Barry, at least 200 flood gates around New Orleans are expected to be closed by Friday, according to NOLA.com.
Despite tornado warnings that lasted well into the afternoon, no confirmed tornadoes were reported. However, people captured and posted to social media images of an apparent waterspout that formed over Lake Pontchartrain and destroyed a home.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a post on Twitter that police officers would ticket motorists who drive faster than 5 mph on streets with standing water and that parking restrictions on neutral grounds and sidewalks had been suspended.
"Residents are reminded not to block intersections or streetcar tracks. To reduce risk of street flooding, do not park in front of or on a catch basin," Cantrell said. Some streets were inundated with as much as 3 to 4 feet of water. Morgan Chesky of NBC News posted video on Twitter showing a deserted Dauphine Street completely submerged as traffic lights flashed on and off in the distance.
The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board said that all major pumps were operating and that officials had 118 out of an available 120.
More than 20,000 customers around New Orleans didn't have power as of 10 a.m. local time, according to Entergy New Orleans.
Some departures out of the international airport were delayed due to the storms. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority said all buses and streetcars were at a standstill.
"Once the streets are clear, they will continue their routes," officials said.
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