NEW ORLEANS — Thousands of Louisianans broke out sandbags or fled to higher ground Thursday as Tropical Storm Barry threatened to turn into the first hurricane of the season and blow ashore with torrential rains that could pose a severe test of New Orleans’ improved post-Katrina flood defenses.
National Guard troops and rescue crews in high-water vehicles took up positions around the state as Louisiana braced for the arrival of the storm Friday night or early Saturday.
Barry could have winds of about 75 miles per hour when it comes ashore, making it a Category 1 storm, forecasters said.
But it is expected to bring more than a foot and a half of rain in potentially ruinous downpours that could go on for hours as the storm passes through the metropolitan area of nearly 1.3 million people and pushes slowly inland.
Governor John Bel Edwards, who declared an emergency earlier in the week as the storm brewed in the Gulf of Mexico, warned that the storm’s blow could form a dangerous combination with the already-high Mississippi River, which has been swelled by heavy rain and snowmelt upriver this spring.
He said authorities do not expect the Mississippi River to spill over its levees but cautioned that a change in the storm’s direction or intensity could alter that.