Tropical Storm Barry Strengthens, With Rain To Soak Millions

NEW ORLEANS — 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.

On-again, off again rain hit New Orleans overnight. As day broke, streets in the normally raucous French Quarter tourist district were largely empty and barely damp. Dog walkers and a street sweeper rambled by. It was breezy, but flags on balconies overhanging the empty streets still occasionally fell limp. A few cars were out on roads. Some nearby homes had piled sandbags outside their doors.

“So far it’s been really nice. It’s been cool. It’s been a little breezy,” said Wayne Wilkinson, out with his dog in the French Quarter. He welcomed the pre-storm respite from July’s normal heat, but said he was mindful things could change: “I know we have to be on the alert.”

Baton Rouge , which was devastated by floods in 2016 , was similarly 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.