Weakened but still potent, Barry inundated the Gulf Coast but appeared unlikely to deluge New Orleans as it continued its slow advance. The storm did bring fresh fears of flash flooding to Mississippi’s capital city on Sunday morning.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards on Saturday night urged residents across south Louisiana to stay “vigilant”, warning that Barry could still cause disastrous flooding across a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast.
“This storm still has a long way to go before it leaves this state,” Edwards said. “Don’t let your guard down.”
In Mississippi, up to 3in of rain had already fallen in the Jackson area before dawn Sunday and more was on the way. That prompted the National Weather Service (NWS) to issue a flash flood warning for the city and some of its suburbs.
New Orleans had been braced for heavy rains on Saturday, but instead had intermittent bands of moderate showers and occasional sunshine.
Though Barry will continue to dump rain throughout the weekend, forecasters downgraded rainfall estimates for the city through Sunday to between 2in to 4in. Forecasters had said New Orleans could get up to 20in of rain, raising concerns that water pumps strengthened after Hurricane Katrina would be overwhelmed.
NWS forecaster Robert Ricks cautioned that it was too early to say for certain that New Orleans was in the clear.
“We’re about at the [halfway] mark of the marathon right now,” he said on Saturday evening. Heavy rainfall from the storm would be concentrated overnight in a wide area centered around Lafayette, he said. The city is about 120 miles west of New Orleans.
In a tweet, Donald Trump echoed that message on Sunday morning.
Late on Saturday night, authorities were trying to rescue a family of five trapped by high water in the south Louisiana town of Franklin, according to KTBS-TV. The national guard had to halt its initial rescue mission because waters were too high to safely reach the family’s home. Franklin is about 40 miles south-east of Lafayette.
In other parts of Louisiana Barry flooded highways, forced people to scramble to rooftops and dumped heavy rain, as it made landfall near Intracoastal City, about 160 miles west of New Orleans. Downpours also lashed coastal Alabama and Mississippi.
After briefly becoming a category one hurricane, the system weakened to a tropical storm, the National Hurricane Center said. By early Sunday, its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 45mph, the NHC said in its latest briefings.
In Mandeville, a city on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans, storm surge and choppy waters sent waves pushing over the seawall and into nearby communities. Dozens of people waded through knee-high water to take a look at the pounding surf.
Elsewhere, US Coast Guard helicopters rescued a dozen people and two pets from flooded areas of Terrebonne Parish, south of New Orleans, some of them from rooftops, a spokeswoman said. Those rescued included a 77-year-old man who called for help because he had about 4ft of water in his home.
None of the main levees on the Mississippi river failed or were breached and they were expected to hold up through the storm, Edwards said. But a levee in Terrebonne Parish was overtopped by water for part of the day, officials said. Video also showed water getting over a second levee in Plaquemines Parish, where fingers of land extend deep into the Gulf of Mexico. Terrebonne Parish ordered an evacuation affecting an estimated 400 people.
Oil and gas operators evacuated hundreds of platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
More than 140,000 customers in Louisiana and another more than 4,000 customers in Mississippi were without power early Sunday, according to poweroutage.us.
Barry was expected to continue weakening and become a tropical depression on Sunday, moving over Arkansas on Sunday night and Monday. But forecasts showed the storm on a path toward Chicago that would swell the Mississippi river basin with water that must eventually flow south again.
In Alabama on Saturday, flooding closed some roads in low-lying areas of Mobile County in Alabama, and heavy rains contributed to accidents, said John Kilcullen, director of plans and operations for Mobile County Emergency Management Agency.
Authorities closed floodgates and raised water barriers around New Orleans. It was the first time since Katrina that all floodgates in the New Orleans area had been sealed.