Tropical Storm Barry continued its slog through the northern Gulf of Mexico on Friday and is expected to come ashore in St. Mary or Iberia parishes on Saturday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical storm warnings are in effect for all Acadiana parishes, and storm-surge warnings have been issued for lower portions of Vermilion Parish, Iberia Parish and St. Mary Parish. A hurricane warning is in effect for most of the Louisiana coast east of Intracoastal City.
Residents along the coast between Intracoastal City and Shell Beach should beware of “life-threatening storm surge inundation,” according to the hurricane center.
While it’s not clear if the storm will become a hurricane, it is expected to dump 10 to 20 inches of rain across south Louisiana as it moves slowly north through the Lafayette area. The heaviest rainfall is expected in the area between Morgan City and Baton Rouge, although there is a high risk of flash flooding across south Louisiana.
"No one should take this storm lightly," Gov. John Bel Edwards said after the latest Unified Command Group meeting Friday afternoon. “You never know what Mother Nature is going to serve until she has served it.”
The storm's winds started to reach the shore Friday morning, with a gust of 40 mph recorded at Boothville before 6 a.m., according to forecasters with the National Weather Service.
The forecast for the storm path, rainfall amounts and wind strength could change throughout Friday and Saturday. The changes are something emergency responders are considering as they build their response plans.
St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Maj. Ginny Higgins said the only thing they can do is be prepared for whatever might happen.
“We’re just in wait mode. It’s truly an hour by hour situation where you have to watch it and monitor what changes are happening before making any determinations. It’s a very fluid plan,” Higgins said.
The sheriff’s office and law enforcement agencies across the region are readying high-water response vehicles and various boats including airboats, flat bottom boats, GatorTails and others. Lt. Robert Moore with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office estimated the agency has at least 10 boats at the ready and more than 200 deputies on standby for storm response.
Rebecca Broussard, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for Vermilion Parish, said the parish is moving all emergency response vehicles to higher ground to ensure they’re safe from flooding, including the parish’s 15 fire trucks.
Having these vehicles in the right place is critical, Higgins said.
“You need to act at a moment’s notice sometimes, especially in emergency situations. We want to make sure we’re prepared and ready to go so that when we need to respond there isn’t any delay,” Higgins said.
Law enforcement agencies and emergency responders are also trying to identify the areas of greatest concern in their parishes. Broussard said Erath, Delcambre and Henry in Vermilion Parish are at high risk because of their proximity to the coast. Erath also has a large elderly population, which could require special assistance when evacuating.
Moore said his agency is concerned about the section of Iberia Parish below U.S. 90, which historically suffers from heavy flooding and storm surge inundation during storms like this. Higgins said they’re watching lower St. Martin Parish and are aware people could be trapped in their homes by flood waters.
“We could have anywhere from 6 to 20 inches of rain in areas depending on where this thing is going and missing or hitting by 20 miles can have a major effect. We’re prepared for the worst but hoping for the best,” Moore said.
Each department said coordinating with state emergency responders is also important, because they can’t always meet every need.
The Louisiana National Guard has prepositioned "numerous" high-wheeled vehicles and more than 3,000 guardsmen throughout south Louisiana to assist with rescues and evacuations.
In addition to high-water vehicles and boats staged in more than 20 communities across the possible affected areas, the Air National Guard has multiple helicopters positioned in Hammond, Lake Charles and Alexandria to use as needed, Louisiana National Guard Adjutant General Glenn Curtis said during a press briefing.
The state has positioned 300 buses in three staging areas — Zephyr Field in New Orleans, Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales and in Lafayette near the Lafayette Regional Airport and the intersection of U.S. 90 and Ambassador Caffery Parkway — in anticipation of possible evacuations.
Aside from preparing their teams, the departments are doing what they can to prepare their communities.
Voluntary evacuations had been issued for lower St. Martin Parish, all of St. Mary Parish, south of La. 92 in Acadia Parish, low-lying areas of Vermilion Parish and in areas below the Intracoastal Waterway in Cameron Parish. Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux also encouraged residents in manufactured housing or mobile homes, low-lying areas and those with special needs to evacuate.
Curfews were also put in place in parishes and cities around Acadiana.
“We don’t want to have to deal with someone who may get hurt by a tree falling on their vehicle or going into a ditch. It’s important for their safety,” Higgins said.