The state began opening shelters to house evacuees from coastal parishes as Gov. John Bel Edwards requested a federal emergency declaration for a storm that grew into Tropical Storm Barry on Thursday.

Edwards said he anticipates Barry to come ashore Saturday morning as a category one hurricane near in Morgan City. 

Under current predictions, which likely will change in coming hours, one-to-three feet storm surges are expected far inland via Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas, which will exasperate problems from already swollen rivers and bayous. The storm is expected to come ashore Saturday morning, pass Lafayette then Baton Rouge by Saturday night and make it to Interstate 20 in north Louisiana by Sunday morning

It’ll be a mostly an “extreme rain event,” with up to 15 inches of rain falling over much of the state, maybe a couple of feet of water in certain localized areas, the governor said. The heaviest rains are expected Friday through Sunday morning.

It’s the first-time a hurricane made landfall in Louisiana while the Mississippi River is at flood stage.

“It isn’t just the Mississippi River, we have elevated rivers across Louisiana,” Edwards said. “We don’t have to wait for the rivers to fill up, they already are,” Edwards said.

Local officials already have called for evacuations in parts of Calcasieu, Lafourche and Plaquemines parishes. Jefferson Parish is requiring residents from communities including Lafitte, Crown Pointe, Barataria and Grand Isle, to leave. The tolls have been lifted on La. Hwy. 1 for evacuees coming from Grand Isle and lower Lafourche Parish.

The Department of Children and Family Services has activated 150 staffers to coordinate shelter needs, such as food, security and pet shelters. DCFS also is checking on the safety and location of the 2,539 foster children in the affected area.

Twenty-five bus drivers are in Plaquemines Parish for point-to-point evacuation operations, largely to Monroe. Mandatory evacuations are in place in the parish south of Caernarvon. Residents in the Plaquemines Parish jails, prison and nursing homes have already been removed to Monroe.

Ouachita Parish is gathering 14,000 bottles of water and 500 blankets for the Monroe shelter that is housing Plaquemines Parish evacuees.

The state also is opening the Louisiana State Emergency Mega-Shelter, on U.S. Hwy. 71 in Alexandria 

In East Feliciana Parish, near Baton Rouge, authorities are asking residents and businesses near the flood-prone Amite River to leave.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne announced state offices would be closed Friday in 32 south Louisiana parishes.

Acting FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and Edwards spoke Thursday morning. The governor sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting a Federal Declaration of Emergency in advance of the storm making landfall. The declaration requests that the state receive supplementary federal resources as soon as possible should they be needed. Over the past 24 hours, 28 parishes have issued parish emergency declarations, 14 parishes are in the process of completing their emergency declarations, and more are anticipated over the next 24 to 48 hours.

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Edwards left the command center Thursday afternoon to tour Chalmette, New Orleans and Morgan City. and New Orleans this afternoon.

Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said, “We are notifying all of our livestock and farmers to make preparations to move their livestock and equipment to higher ground.” He said the evacuation would be for most of south Louisiana. The state also is moving cages and equipment to the mega-shelter in Alexandria for evacuated pets, he said.

Strain said it was good that the state didn’t open the Morganza Spillway, which would have raised the level of water into the Atchafalaya Basin, and caused more severe flooding deeper into the interior of Louisiana when the hurricane comes ashore near Morgan City, where the Atchafalaya empties into the Gulf.

Fifteen production platforms and four drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated Wednesday and more are shutting down Thursday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Crude oil prices at $67.04 Thursday morning are the highest they have been in seven weeks and are expected to go higher, according the Energy Information Administration.

Three thousand soldiers already are working on the levees and are moving into the expected path of the hurricane south of Lafayette.

High-Water Vehicle and Boat staging locations include Lake Charles, Abbeville, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, New Roads, Coushatta, Bossier City, New Orleans, Camp Beauregard, the Plaquemine Armory, Esler Airfield, and Hammond Airfield.

Coastal Protection And Restoration Authority is pre-positioning pumps in Grand Isle, as well as Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and St. John the Baptist parishes. Orleans Parish received trucks to move 100 pallets, each filled with 5,000 sandbags.

Tropical storm watches already have been posted for Orleans, Ascension and Livingston parishes along with most of the Florida parishes and the river parishes south of Baton Rouge.

Though predictions are likely to change between now and Saturday, the current path hauntingly follows previous hurricanes, which left much of south Louisiana without power for weeks.

Since 2010, Entergy Louisiana, which services more than 1 million customers in this state, has constructed 16 new transmission lines, rebuilt 21 existing transmission lines, which move electricity from generating plants, and storm-hardened nearly 25 substations, where the power is distributed to the lines that go to residential and commercial customers.

In addition, Entergy has completed 13 reconfiguration projects, which adds more access to areas that had been isolated with only one line bringing in power.

“We are urging our customers to monitor the storm’s path, follow the direction of local authorities and be ready to implement their own storm plans if needed,” said Phillip May at Wednesday’s Public Service Commission meeting.

Utility crews are mobilizing near the areas that could be impacted so they can respond to any outages that may occur, May said.

The path is also worrying homeowners whose houses flooded in the August 2016 storm that dumped more than 20 inches of rain in several south Louisiana parishes from Lafayette to Baton Rouge to Hammond. Thirteen people died and tens of thousands of homes and businesses flooded, particularly along the Amite and Comite river systems.

Republican state Rep. Valarie Hodges lives in a subdivision that backs up to the old Thunderbird Beach lake in Livingston Parish. Usually the rain goes from the front of her house into the lake, keeping the subdivision from flooding. In August 2016 she learned that her home floods when the Amite River rises high enough to spill over a strip of land into the lake behind her house.

Ninety percent of her Livingston Parish House district flooded in 2016. But rain predictions for Hurricane Barry are a little less over a longer period of time., she said.

“We’ll have some homes flooding, that I can be sure of, but I don’t think it’s going to flood the whole community,” Hodges said.

She has worked on getting money that would mitigate flooding the East Feliciana, St. Helena, East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parish communities along the Comite and Amite rivers.

For instance, money has been found to complete the Comite Diversion project, which sends flood waters to the Mississippi River rather than into Baton Rouge-area neighborhoods. But the construction isn’t complete and won’t be of much help this weekend. Other projects, such as the Darlington Reservoir to collect flood waters as they come out of Wilkinson County, Mississippi have never gained traction.

So the situation is similar with the key difference that her constituents know what to expect. 

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” Hodges said, adding that she spends a lot more time looking at that lake behind her house when it rains. “And I’m not afraid to admit that I’m more than a little nervous.”

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