New Orleans already underwater as tropical storm approaches

Much of New Orleans remains underwater after more than 8 inches of rain inundated the city Wednesday, but the worst is yet to come.

Now located in the Gulf of Mexico southeast of the city, Tropical Storm Barry is expected to strengthen into a hurricane on Saturday before making landfall on the Louisiana coast just west of New Orleans.

On Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and warned that the storm should not be taken lightly.

“The entire coast of Louisiana is at play in this storm,” Edwards said.

As it slowly approaches land, Barry is expected to drop up to 20 inches of additional rain to the region between Friday and Sunday, enough to potentially top levees that help protect New Orleans. While many of the levees that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 onslaught on the Gulf Coast were strengthened after Congress approved $14.5 billion to upgrade the system, this year’s first hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. will test them.

Eagle Street in New Orleans after flooding from a tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico dumped several inches of rain. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

In addition to Barry’s massive rainfall, the storm is projected to bring a 3- to 6-foot surge, which is especially concerning given that the Mississippi River — swollen from months of record-setting rains across several heartland states — is expected to crest at 19 feet above sea level over the weekend. Levee heights along sections of the river that protect neighborhoods such as the Lower Ninth Ward, Bywater, Algiers and St. Bernard Parish are listed at 20 feet.

Many parts of the French Quarter are already flooded as Barry continues to crawl closer to the Big Easy, making for scenes all too familiar for many residents.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell also declared a state of emergency, but said Wednesday that the coming storm, which is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, was not strong enough to warrant an evacuation order. “We look [for] a Category 3,” she said, adding that residents should “plan to shelter in place.”

The National Hurricane Center warned Thursday that the storm was “life-threatening.”

Barry’s heavy downpours mark the second significant rain event in the United States this week. On Monday, as President Trump delivered a speech touting his administration’s environmental record (without mentioning climate change), record rains in Washington, D.C., resulted in flash flooding that soaked the White House basement and shuttered the National Archives.

As of early Thursday afternoon, Trump had yet to comment on Tropical Storm Barry or the threat faced by New Orleans residents.

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