NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Storm Barry continued to slowly rumble across Louisiana on Sunday, July 14, bringing waves of rain that forecasters warned could lead to dangerous flash flooding.
The storm has dropped less rain than initially feared and was expected to weaken throughout the day. But as Barry made its plodding, almost leisurely way through the region, the storm still posed a significant threat, with flash flood watches extending across most of Louisiana and into Mississippi and Arkansas.
The National Hurricane Center said Barry could dump up to a foot of rain in some parts of southern and central Louisiana, with 20 inches possible in some areas.
"This rainfall is expected to lead to dangerous, life-threatening flooding," the center said Sunday morning.
A day after touching down on the Louisiana coast - becoming the first hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic season - Barry was shifting north, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center reported Sunday morning that Barry's center would "move across the western portion of central and northern Louisiana today, and over Arkansas tonight and Monday." It also said the storm would weaken to a tropical depression later Sunday.
Even as the storm loses power, its slow path north is expected to wreak havoc, with the hurricane center warning of dangerous storm surges, flooding as water moves inland and swollen rivers.
The Louisiana National Guard had nearly 3,000 soldiers deployed throughout the state, authorities said. The Louisiana State Police had troopers deployed statewide, "with specific concentrations in the coastal regions," said Lt. Nick Manale, a spokesman. Manale said work included patrolling roadways and evacuation routes for possible issues, escorting medical personnel coming in from Texas and providing security for evacuees.
Even as forecasts shifted, officials stressed that the possibility of flooding caused by Barry remained a dire threat.
"We are not, in any way, out of the woods," New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
A steady rain fell on New Orleans overnight and into Sunday morning, but there were signs that the city was slowly trying to return to normal. Cars were back on the streets and restaurants - which had been operating with skeletal staffs - resumed normal service. Airlines that had canceled flights in and out of the city began resuming normal operations Sunday morning.
Cantrell reported Sunday morning that the tropical storm and storm surge warnings for her city had been canceled, though a flash flood watch remained until Sunday night.
Predictions for the heaviest rainfall had shifted west of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, a positive sign for two population centers that have a weary experience with storms and flooding. Both areas were still expected to see continued rainfall and flooding remained a possibility.
Other areas remained on guard. Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news briefing that the Mississippi River has levees "and doesn't pose a threat," but he added, "every other river poses a threat to flooding."
In Cocodrie, a low-lying coastal village near the bottom of Louisiana's southern wetlands, Barry's damage was apparent on Saturday night. Police only allowed residents to check on their properties by walking over the giant earthen levee on foot.
Across a closed, metal floodgate, Cocodrie felt like a ghost town. Barry's winds and water swept an unusual assortment of items into the highway, which rests on a strip of land bordered by marshy ponds to the west and Bayou Petit Caillou to the east. A large, wooden table sat on the road's center line, while marsh plants, a windowpane and bricks were scattered across the lanes.
Officials in Terrebonne Parish took Barry's threat seriously, with Sheriff Jerry Larpenter ordering a curfew as the storm approached. By Saturday morning, Coast Guard helicopters had to rescue 13 people trapped by flooding on the Isle de Jean Charles, east of Cocodrie.
With howling winds on Saturday, Buddy Toups, 41, ventured across the levee to check on his Cocodrie property, a fishing camp down the road from his full-time residence in Houma. Cocodrie has few permanent residents, Toups said, and most everyone he knows left before Barry's arrival.
"I was expecting 2 to 3 feet," Toups said as he checked his property, "but we ended up with six or seven feet because of the storm surge." Toups's property, which is raised 16 feet off the ground, suffered some damage but did not flood. His neighbor's house also was spared, Toups said, though the storm sank his boat into the bayou.
Like many coastal Louisiana residents, Toups was seemingly unfazed by it all as he assessed the latest round of damage."This isn't my first hurricane," he said.
The Comite River is expected to crest higher than it did during the destructive floods of 2016; the Amite could also be well above flood stage. In Morgan City on the Atchafalaya River, rain and wind were already downing trees and power lines Saturday, leaving more than 6,000 in the dark, according to David Naquin of the St. Mary Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
One couple had to be rescued from their trailer, Naquin said, after live wires fell onto it and they dared not touch the metal door handles.
In New Orleans, officials expressed confidence in the flood-mitigation system built to protect the city after Hurricane Katrina. Cabdriver Harold Nolan said he was relieved that the city seems to have escaped the worst effects of the storm. He said he and other longtime New Orleans residents could sense days ago that weather forecasters were needlessly "hyping" the storm before its arrival.
"I think a lot of the media overplayed this," Nolan said. "I just can't see that they didn't see that this storm was going to bypass most of New Orleans, even if it is wreaking havoc on other parts of Louisiana right now."
Cantrell, the mayor, had asked residents to remain sheltered in their homes throughout the weekend, declining to put in place a curfew, which she said would require additional resources.
On the Lafourche Parish side of Des Allemands, a town about 40 minutes southwest of New Orleans, residents living along the Bayou Des Allemands warily eyed the choppy water Saturday evening.
"The water's not high yet, but if it rises three feet they say it'll be over the levee," said George Toney, 31, who lives directly across the street from the boat-lined bayou. "Our stance now is we look like we're going to be good, so we're not worried like we were the last few days. But we've got to be ready like anybody. We all got our bags packed in case we have to leave, but for now we're staying put."
Down the road, Mark Fonseca's property sits directly on the bayou. Fonseca, 47, spent Saturday morning stacking sandbags on top of the small levee wall he built with rocks, clay, and dirt last year.
"If we don't keep the water out of here, everybody in the neighborhood will flood," he said. "I built the levee so I don't have to sandbag so much anymore. I'm getting older."
Fonseca, a blue crab, catfish and alligator fisherman, has lived in this house his entire life. "The water table is a lot higher than when I was younger," he said. "We're supposed to be losing coast land every year, and the water comes up quicker now than it used to."
On Saturday, the bayou, though high, was not testing Fonseca's levee.
"I'm not really worried about no water damage or nothing, but then again the storm is going so slow," he said. "We're taking it day by day right now. Simple as that. We're basically just watching."
This article was written by Tim Craig, Ashley Cusick, Mark Berman, a reporter for The Washington Post.