Tropical Storm Barry hits Louisiana, could stay for a long, soaking time

FIRST ALERT: Two feet of rain forecast for parts of the Gulf Coast as Barry approaches

FIRST ALERT: Two feet of rain forecast for parts of the Gulf Coast as Barry approaches

"Barry is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 10 to 20 inches over southeast Louisiana and southwest MS, with isolated maximum amounts of 25 inches", the National Hurricane Center says.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell says via Twitter, "High water vehicles and boats are pre-staged around the city should water rescues be necessary".

While New Orleans authorities refrained from ordering evacuations and advised residents to shelter in place instead, tourism officials reported an exodus of hotel guests checking out early on Friday.

An SUV travels down Breakwater Drive in New Orleans near the Orleans Marina as water moves in from Lake Pontchartrain from the storm surge from Tropical Storm Barry.

"This is going to be a major weather event for a huge portion of the state of Louisiana", warned Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Hurricane warnings are up for most of the Louisiana coast as the weather system has already brought unsafe storm surge, heavy rains and gusty winds to cities.

States of emergency have been declared in the Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and St. Charles parishes, with mandatory evacuations ordered in Jefferson and Plaquesmine parishes. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed the New Orleans region and killed 1,500 people with high winds and levee-bursting floods.

Barry could have winds of about 75 miles per hour (120 kph), just barely over the 74 miles per hour threshold for a hurricane, when it comes ashore, making it a Category 1 storm, forecasters said.

A coastal storm surge into the mouth of the MS is expected to push its crest to 19 feet (5.79 m) in New Orleans on Saturday, the highest level since 1950 and dangerously close to the top of the city's levees. "It's a really powerful river", said Nadia Jenkins of New Orleans. "I told my son it's better to be safe than sorry", she said.

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"Everything I own is in it", he said of his truck.

She said warmer air in the Gulf of Mexico will likely add fuel to the storm, while warmer ocean temperatures there will fill it with vast amounts of evaporated water that can lead to risky flooding. He lived through Hurricane Katrina, and like so many residents, isn't taking any chances again. "Trauma stays in your body, and Katrina left a lot of trauma behind".

Green group Environment America said there were more than 100 Superfund environmental cleanup sites and 17 oil refineries in the path of the storm.

New Orleans' network of drainage pumps, underground pipes and canals were overwhelmed earlier this week by rain.

Some streets were under as much as four feet of water.

"It performed well", he said, adding, "you never know exactly what Mother Nature's going to throw at you".

The brunt of Barry was expected to skirt the western edge of New Orleans, avoiding a direct hit. "These rains are expected to lead to unsafe, life-threatening flooding over portions of the central Gulf Coast into the Lower Mississippi Valley".

The Florida Panhandle has seen double red flags go up in some areas, closing beaches, the National Weather Service said.

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