Hurricane Barry made landfall at Marsh Island, west of Morgan City and due south of Lafayette about noon Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. By 1 p.m., it was downgraded to a strong tropical storm with sustained winds of 70 mph.
The slow-moving storm — and the anticipation surrounding it — resulted in early preparation. All that was left was watching and waiting for Acadiana residents.
Winds were sustained at about 45 mph with higher gusts in Morgan City just before landfall, but little damage was reported. Tree branches, siding and part of the fence around the Morgan City High School football stadium were down. But rainfall was minimal early in the day.
About 5,000 in St. Mary Parish were without power Saturday morning, according to David Naquin, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Workers were waiting for the wind to subside before restoring power.
Driving was difficult Saturday morning, so residents were advised to stay indoors. The two-lane bridge spanning the Atchafalaya River between Morgan City and Berwick was closed to motorists. The four-lane U.S. 90 bridge remained open.
In the nearby lower St. Martin Parish community of Stephensville, residents helped friends and neighbors prepare for heavy rains expected with Barry. Until a few weeks ago, high water from the Atchafalaya River and surrounding bayous, coupled with rainfall, flooded some homes.
Mike Bahry had sand bags surrounding his home until about two weeks ago. He removed them when water levels dropped. Friday, friends and neighbors helped put a water-filled barrier around his home instead of sandbags.
Next door, Dany Barras put a water-filled barrier around his house, along with two pumps, stopping water from entering his home of about 32 years. Friday, the barrier was going back up.
“It’s beginning to happen way too often,” Barras said of the flooding.
A guardian angel was watching over the Aucoin family Saturday morning when winds from Hurricane Barry split a large oak tree in their front yard.
"It broke three ways,” little Hanna Aucoin, dressed in her bathing suit, said.
Hanna Aucoin was riding out the storm at her grandparents’ house, which is tucked between La. 182 and Bayou Teche near Patterson, La.
“First we heard it hit the roof. Then it hit the highway,” Chandra Donati, whose brother owns the house, said. “We were scared.”
A third section of the tree fell in the yard. The eave of the house was damaged a little, homeowner Jackie Aucoin said, and the chimney is missing, but no one was hurt.
“My angel saved us,” she said, choking back tears.
Still standing in the middle of the broken tree, untouched despite the carnage around it, is an angel statue.
“When I put her there, I said, ‘You watch over us,’” Jackie Aucoin said. “That’s my guardian angel. It could’ve been a lot worse. That’s a big tree.”
Homeowner Jay Aucoin was in Morgan City, keeping pumps working so the city stays dry during Barry, when he got the call and rushed home.
He was surprised the old oak tree didn’t survive the storm.
“That tree withstood Hurricane Andrew,” Jay Aucoin said. “Andrew came right over the house.”
At the command center behind Delcambre City Hall, the Iberia Parish chief administrative officers, Scott Saunier, joined a group of town employees and local volunteers. The group of more than half a dozen gathered around a table with pizzas and donuts, cracking jokes and entertaining reporters.
There wasn't much to do. The high water vehicles were positioned in the Lowe's parking lot. Thousands of sandbags had been retrieved from Alexandria and placed in Delcambre and elsewhere. The next order of the day — if there would be one — was to save lives.
“The assets are all positioned, so right now it’s about protecting people," Saunier said. "The game now is, if they get stuck in their homes, then we start pulling them out."
The National Hurricane Center's morning advisory had tilted the storm further west, toward the Iberia Parish and Vermilion Parish boundary -—which runs through Delcambre along Railroad Street, a long football pass from the command center. Delcambre, now directly in Hurricane Barry's crosshair, is more of a flooding threat than some other municipalities near the Vermilion Bay, Saunier said.
That's because it's stuck between the bay and Lake Peigneur, with the Delcambre Canal running through town and connecting those bodies of water. An initial hurricane strike pushes water up the canal, which is also the relief valve for excess drainage water the lake collects from points north. The water collides from both directions, spilling into town.
“We don’t just have water coming from the south, from the storm itself. When this thing moves inland and starts dumping rain on Lafayette, Youngsville and Vermilion Parish and everywhere else, it all ends up here because water flows downhill," Saunier said. "If the tide is up."
Storms of years past — Hurricane Rita being perhaps the most famous in recent memory — zipped through Delcambre with immense wind speeds, whipping up overwhelming storm surges. Saunier observed that Hurricane Barry, like other cyclones in the Gulf of Mexico in recent years, fits a different mold: slower and wetter. While Barry only reached Category 1, Saunier feared it could do as much damage as Rita if it spins in place for hours on end.
The characteristics of recent storms is not all that has changed. Saunier said sea-level rise and subsidence have basically wiped out land barriers around channels such as Intracoastal Waterway. Saunier remembers swimming there as a kid and needling a ladder to get down into the water from the levee, which was wide enough to park several cars across it.
"Now you can trip over it, there’s nothing left," Saunier said. “There are places in Weeks Bay right now where the Intracoastal Canal and the bay are one. The land is all gone.”
Emergency responders across Lafayette played the waiting game Saturday as the approach of Hurricane Barry dragged into the afternoon and increased concerns about high rainfall numbers.
Police departments and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office said they had increased patrols since Friday and had emergency response vehicles, high-water rescue vehicles, boats and other rescue equipment at the ready should the slow-moving storm dump enough rain to produce severe flooding.
Dispatchers for Lafayette 911 slept at the Lafayette 911 headquarters to ensure they didn’t drive in dangerous conditions at the end of their 12-hour shifts, Lafayette Parish Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness director Craig Stansbury said.
Unlike 2016, when an un-forecasted slow-moving storm dumped between 20 to 30 inches across south Louisiana, the lead time ahead of Hurricane Barry allowed first responders to better prepare, Stansbury said. Aside from local agencies, the Louisiana National Guard, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Catholic Charities were also in place to respond to community needs.
The preparation was critical, because the later the storm reaches the area the greater the likelihood residents will require evacuations at night. That increases the danger for both first responders and evacuees, he said.
“It would complicate everything we had to do if we had to do it at night,” Stansbury said.
Departments also took important lessons from the 2016 floods to improve their response. Stansbury, who also leads Lafayette 911, said the parish has improved communication between agencies to prevent multiple responses to a single call. By avoiding call duplication, the first responders can more quickly serve more people.
Carencro Police Chief David Anderson said this time the city’s public works department pre-staged barricades at intersections where the city knows water problems are a frequent concern. The preparation will save officers time when closing hazardous roads, he said.
Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. John Mowell said the agency has beefed up its search and rescue training since 2016 and has more equipment at the ready, including Humvee-style vehicles, high-water rescue vehicles and more boats. The department will have 60 search and rescue trained deputies rotating between shifts throughout the storm, he said.
“We’re far ahead of the game from where we were in 2016,” Mowell said.
Barry was expected to continue moving slowly north through Lafayette Saturday night and Sunday. Forecasters said the storm could still bring heavy rainfall in Acadiana with predictions of 10 to 15 inches for most areas. Because of the possibility of flash flooding, officials from St. Mary to St. Landry warned resididents to stay sheltered in place. Curfews remained in effect in most parishes.