Mexico Beach Mayor Reflects on Hurricane Michael One Year Later
At a Glance
- President Donald Trump declared a federal emergency in Louisiana Thursday evening.
- Mandatory evacuations were ordered for parts of Plaquemines, LaFourche and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana.
- Voluntary evacuations were announced for New Orleans residents living outside the levees.
- The Louisiana National Guard is on standby for rescues and assistance.
As Tropical Storm Barry approaches the Louisiana Gulf Coast, communities in the storm's projected path are making final preparations for what is expected to be days of potentially life-threatening flooding rain.
"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."
President Donald Trump declared a federal emergency in Louisiana on Thursday evening, freeing up resources for the state. The news came hours after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced he had submitted a federal disaster request.
In addition to a letter from Bel Edwards to Trump requesting aid, all six Louisiana U.S. House members and the state's two senators wrote to the president seeking help.
"Whether it makes landfall as a hurricane or as a tropical storm, this weather system threatens more than one foot of rainfall, life-threatening flash flooding, extreme winds and a storm surge of up to four feet throughout areas of South Louisiana," they wrote. "The dangers to life and property posed by this storm are worsening by the fact that the Mississippi River has been at flood stage for much of the spring and summer."
In a rare occurrence, all 244 major flood gates in and around New Orleans that are a part of the “hurricane protection system” have been ordered closed, WWL-TV reported.
The gate closures also forced the closure of Louisiana Route 45 because one of the gates closes across the roadway at the entrance to the Jean Lafitte National Park & Preserve.
Several areas are under mandatory evacuation orders as cities handed out sandbags and warned residents choosing not to evacuate to be prepared to shelter in place throughout the weekend.
On Friday, Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle issued a mandatory evacuation for Port Fourchon and other areas south of the Leon Theriot Flood Gate in Golden Meadow.
Plaquemines Parish, where as many as 10,000 people were ordered to evacuate, was nearly empty by mid-afternoon Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The parish sits at Louisiana's low-lying southeastern tip.
"If the river wasn't so high, we'd probably stay," Justice of the Peace David McGaha told the AP as he waited with his mother, his wife and their 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter for a ferry so they could evacuate to his mother's house in Alabama. "You have to worry about the water that'll be pushing against those levees. They made a lot of improvements to the levee, but they haven't completed all the projects."
Clarence Brocks, 65, a Plaquemines Parish native and volunteer fire chief, lost his home to Hurricane Katrina. Now, he's packing up again.
"We're in between two major bodies of water and the only thing protecting us is two 18-foot levees, and one of them failed already for Katrina," he told the AP.
The lower-lying Jefferson Parish areas of Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria, about 28 miles south of New Orleans, were also under an evacuation order.
"With the way the storm has shifted, and with the winds, we do feel like people could get trapped, and we certainly don't want that to happen," Parish President Michael Yenni told WWL-TV. "People's lives are more important than anything else."
Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner also issued a mandatory evacuation for that town, effective at 2 p.m. Thursday local time, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
A mandatory evacuation was effective at 12 p.m. CDT Thursday for Grand Isle, the vulnerable barrier island south of New Orleans.
Voluntary evacuations were also ordered for parts of Acadia parish.
Other parishes were more reluctant to issue evacuations.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Friday afternoon announced a voluntary evacuation for residents who live outside the city's levee system. Residents within the levees have been told to shelter in place.
They've been asked to remain at home and have at least three days of supplies on hand and to help keep storm drains clear.
Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm, freeing up state resources for storm response before, during and after the storm's arrival.
"There are three ways Louisiana floods: storm surge, high river and rain. We’re going to have all three," Bel Edwards said Thursday during a press conference. "Whether it comes from the rain or from the river, water is water."
More than 120 middle and high school students from across the U.S. attending a summer camp at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge were evacuated Thursday night to Rice University in Texas. Rice officials say the students will be able to complete their program on site, the Associated Press reported.
The Louisiana National Guard activated 3,000 troops, and high-water vehicles and boats were staged in more than 20 communities throughout the state. Helicopters were also ready to support search and rescue, evacuation and reconnaissance missions, as needed.
"The LANG is also moving and staging additional assets to the New Orleans area in order to provide a quick response as needed," according to a press release.
The release also said large quantities of drinking water, blankets and sandbags were ready for distribution if needed.
The region could receive a double whammy from the tropical storm and the already flooded Mississippi River.
"The slow movement of this system will result in a long duration heavy rainfall threat along the central Gulf Coast and inland through the lower Mississippi Valley through the weekend and potentially into next week," the National Hurricane Center warned.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday it was sending personnel to Louisiana and Texas, CNN reported.
The agency also noted that it was "monitoring any potential effects to areas hit by hurricanes Harvey and Michael, where joint recovery efforts continue."
South Louisiana's two largest power suppliers, Entergy and Cleco, say they are preparing for power outages as a result of the storm. Entergy, which serves 300,000 gas and electricity customers in New Orleans and more than 1 million in the rest of the state, says they expect an additional 1,240 crew workers will be available to help during the storm. Meanwhile, Cleco, which serves 300,000 customers in Louisiana and Mississippi, said it had brought in an additional 800 line mechanics, 395 tree trimmers and 22 damage assessors to manage any outages, the Times-Picayune reported.
Crews continued to inspect levees and the pumps that keep water out of New Orleans. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Ricky Boyett told the Associated Press that the city's levees "are in good shape" but said areas south of the city are of particular concern.
The corps was working with local officials down river to identify and reinforce vulnerable low-lying areas.
Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban told the AP that 118 of New Orleans' 120 pumps were ready to take on the water dumped by the storm.
A Rolling Stones concert scheduled Sunday in New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome has been postponed until Monday because of the storm, nola.com reported.
The approaching storm has officials and residents throughout the region on edge, particularly in the wake of hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and flooding from an unnamed storm in 2016.
“Our situation along the Gulf near the mouth of the Mississippi River has been improved markedly since 2005. We’re banking on those improvements now. What I’m concerned about is the debilitating effects of compounding events on our infrastructure; our spillway has been opened now for the longest time since it was built,” said Belinda Constant, Mayor of Gretna, Louisiana, and the immediate past Co-Chair of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative. “The 2017 and 2018 hurricane seasons followed by the 2019 prolonged flood all take a toll. We will need to carefully examine impacts and take stock once this storm passes.”
New Orleans resident Tanya Gulliver-Garcia said she and her neighbors are dealing with the prior trauma from the storms and the stress of a new threat.
“My biggest concern though is for my friends and neighbors, especially those who lived through Katrina. This storm is stressing them out. Trauma stays in your body and Katrina left a lot of trauma behind. I'm also concerned for those who don't have the means to evacuate. Their choices were and are much more limited than mine. I have a network of folks across the country who would take me in at a moment's notice and the ability to get there. Many people in this community don't have that luxury,” she said.Pamela Creech and her husband Glenn told weather.com they moved to Mid-City about a month ago and are "feeling a little concern that this area does flood from time to time."
"Right now, probably our biggest concern is about our cars being flooded," Creech said. "We had to move one car yesterday to higher ground."
She added that they are planning to make sure "our cars are filled with gas, that we have extra water supply and food on hand. In the move, I'm not sure where our flashlight is so plan to buy a new one!"
Numerous state and local government offices, universities and schools in the New Orleans area announced closures for Friday. A full list can be found here from the Times-Picayune.
The Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery in Plaquemines Parish shut down early Friday and will remain offline during the duration of the storm, the Times Picayune reported.
The 3,600-passenger Carnival Cruise ship Valor was unable to return to its home port of New Orleans Thursday as scheduled because of the storm. Instead, the ship docked at Mobile, Alabama, and passengers were bused back to New Orleans, according to a press release.
Carnival Glory is still scheduled to return to New Orleans on Sunday, the cruise lines said.
The Port of New Orleans ceased operations at noon Thursday and will reopen once the storm passes.
Amtrak, Megabus and Greyhound have all suspended service in New Orleans, according to WWL-TV.
Airlines issued advisories for cities that may be impacted by the storm, including New Orleans, Pensacola and Panama City Beach. Southwest airlines says passengers with flight reservations to, from or through those cities during July 9 to July 13 may rebook their flight within 14 days without paying any additional charges. Allegiant Airlines cancelled Friday flights to and from New Orleans.
United Airlines also issued travel waivers for the following cities: Alexandria, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe and New Orleans in Louisiana; Ft. Walton Beach, Panama City, and Pensacola, Florida; Gulfport and Jackson, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman T.J. Werre said Friday that search-and-rescue teams have been stationed on the Gulf Coast, at Camp Shelby military base near Hattiesburg and in Pike County in the southwestern part of the state near the Louisiana state line in anticipation of torrential rain from Tropical Storm Barry.
As residents along the coast prepared their homes for the possibility of flooding, free sandbags were made available in several locations in Harrison County, emergency management (MEMA) director Rupert Lacy told the AP.
"When you live in paradise, you have to expect some days like this," he said.
Gregory Michel, executive director of MEMA, said the biggest threat is backwater flooding in inland counties.
“Counties such as Warren, Humphreys, Issaquena and Sharkey, all of which have dealt with flooding issues, could be impacted by backwater flooding from the storm,” Michel told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger.