Tropical Storm Barry is expected to come ashore near Avery Island in Iberia Parish on Saturday morning, according to Friday's forecast.

[Update, 10 a.m. Saturday: Barry has been upgraded to a hurricane.]

At 163 feet above sea level, the island — actually a salt dome — is best known as the source of Tabasco sauce and home to the McIlhenny Co., which has produced it there for more than 150 years.

The island is no stranger to hurricanes.

In 2005, Category-3 Hurricane Rita blew in from the Gulf of Mexico and pushed waters from the Vermilion Bay into Avery Island, coming within 2 inches of flooding the Tabasco production facility. Rita destroyed a house and flooded the pepper fields. The warehouse and its 60,000 barrels were under 3 feet of water. Production shut down for nearly a week.

“This was just one big lake,” CEO Harold Osborn said in 2018. “There were barrels floating around. And the water kept rising. There was panic.”

While Avery Island is still one of the highest points along the Louisiana coast, coastal land around Avery is disappearing at a rapid pace, making the island more susceptible to flooding from storms. 

For Tropical Storm Barry, Lt. Robert Moore with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office said areas below U.S. 90, like Avery Island, are emergency responders’ biggest concern because of potentially historic flooding and tidal surge in the area. The rain and storm surge are projected to be the most dangerous elements of the storm, he said, putting those low-lying areas at risk.

“We could have anywhere from six 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.

Since Rita, the McIlhenny Co. has mounted an expensive and ambitious effort to protect and restore the 2,200-acre island, according to a 2018 report. Tropical Storm Barry may be a test of their efforts.

The company built a $5 million, 20-foot-tall earthen levee around the production area. They have also installed a pump system and backup generators.

In 2011, the company formed a restoration partnership, the Rainey Conservation Alliance, with two other private property owners on Vermilion Bay and the National Audubon Society, owners of the 26,000-acre Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary. 

The alliance has focused on a multifaceted approach to restoring the marshes, which help to slow approaching storms and protect the island from storm surge.

One of its largest efforts was the installation of several circular terraces a few miles west of Avery Island. The terraces, completed in 2012, replicate duck ponds and break up wave and wind energy.

The company has combated abandoned oil exploration canals, a major source of erosion, by planting cordgrass going at the canal’s mouth. Over time, the grass forms a plug, and the canal backfills with soil and vegetation on its own. 

They also burned patches of marsh to encourage stronger regrowth and hunted feral hogs, which root up and destroy wetlands.

The company and the alliance invested about $1 million on a small overflow dam that slows water in a small bayou south of the island.

In June, Osborn was installed as the eighth president and CEO of the McIlhenny Co. The company has just over 220 employees.

Avery Island is also home to Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre botanical garden and bird sanctuary.