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Storm Barry takes aim at Louisiana, could roar ashore as hurricane

NEW ORLEANS: Millions of residents in Louisiana on Saturday braced for Tropical Storm Barry, which is threatening the southern US state and its largest city New Orleans with potentially disastrous rainfall and flooding.

Authorities ramped up evacuations, airlines cancelled flights and flood gates slammed shut as the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast the strengthening storm would reach hurricane status Saturday and roar ashore along the state’s central coast.

The large storm system currently in the Gulf of Mexico brings heavy rains, a potential storm surge and flooding that pose a threat reminiscent of 2005’s deadly Hurricane Katrina.

Thousands packed up and left their homes as flood waters hit low-lying areas like Plaquemines Parish, where road closures left some communities isolated as they braced for Barry’s arrival.

By early Saturday the storm was packing winds of 65 miles (100 kilometers) per hour, just shy of hurricane strength, and 125 miles south of the coast, according to the NHC.

Dozens took shelter in Plaquemines’s Belle Chasse auditorium, while others headed inland to stay with friends or relatives and avoid what the NHC called “life-threatening flooding” to coastal and river areas.

Governor John Bel Edwards said New Orleans was well prepared to withstand the storm, but urged vigilance by residents across the state, as authorities called on people to stay off the streets.

“No one should take this storm lightly, and I urge everyone to remain informed,” Edwards said on Twitter.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged people to stay indoors Friday night, but the city’s famed party atmosphere was far from extinguished just hours ahead of the storm.

In the French Quarter entertainment district, revelers wearing plastic bead necklaces drank “hurricane” cocktails and sang arm in arm as they walked down Bourbon Street, while couples danced to a zydeco band in the Tropical Isle’s Bayou Club.

If the storm becomes a hurricane, it would be the first of the Atlantic season, which runs from June to November.

With Barry threatening massive rainfall across several southern states, federal emergency declarations were issued to help free up resources to address the storm.

We could be looking at widespread major flooding across several river basins,” the NHC said.

Some Plaquemines residents were battening down to ride out the storm, despite mandatory evacuation orders.

“We’ve stayed for some pretty strong storms and we shouldn’t have,” said Keith Delahoussaye, a 60-year-old mechanic, at his trailer home in Port Sulphur.

But he was keeping a close eye on the level of the Mississippi River nearby. “If we see the water rising here, we’ll leave.”

Donald Brown, operations manager for Plaquemines Medical Center, said most people had evacuated.

“I’d say they fear it every time,” said Brown, 58, who survived Katrina and was staying behind to look after the medical center.

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