NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Heavy rains and gusty winds knocked out power on the Gulf Coast on Saturday as a strengthening Tropical Storm Barry churned a path to shore, threatening millions and testing flood-prevention efforts implemented after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans 14 years ago.
Officials predicted Barry would make landfall as this year’s first hurricane in the morning near Morgan City, west of New Orleans. The small town had an overnight curfew that expired Saturday morning, after on-and-off rain and power outages. People used cellphones to see in the dark, and opened doors and windows to let the warm, sticky tropical air circulate.
More than 45,000 people in southern Louisiana had lost power, and some roads were underwater as the edges of the storm lashed Louisiana and coastal Mississippi and Alabama with rain.
Though expected to be a weak hurricane — just barely over the 74 mph (119 kph) wind speed threshold — Barry threatened disastrous flooding across a swath of the Gulf Coast. The storm was expected to inflict the most damage on Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, with wind and rain affecting more than 3 million people.
Late Friday night, residents received good news from forecasters: The Mississippi River is expected to crest in New Orleans at about 17.1 feet (5.2 meters) on Monday, not 19 feet (5.8 meters) as had been earlier predicted. The levees protecting the city range from about 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 meters) in height.
Baton Rouge , which was devastated by floods in 2016 , was quiet Saturday, with puddles left from overnight rains, wind shaking the trees and only a few cars and trucks on thoroughfare Interstate 10. In Alabama, rain pounded the eastern shore of Mobile Bay overnight, with scattered power outages in communities including Daphne, along Interstate 10.
Forecasters warned that most of the storm’s rain remained over the Gulf of Mexico and would likely move into Louisiana and Mississippi later Saturday. There were predictions of 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 centimeters) of rain through Sunday across a swath of Louisiana that includes New Orleans and Baton Rouge with some parts of the state possible getting 25 inches (63 centimeters).
"It’s powerful. It’s strengthening. And water is going to be a big issue,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned.
Governors declared emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, and authorities took unprecedented precautions in closing floodgates and raising the barriers around New Orleans.