Cassidy and JBE 071219

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, talk with reporters after meeting with emergency personnel on Friday, July 12, 2019.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday the state is well prepared for Tropical Storm Barry and asked Louisiana residents to decide where they want to be Friday night and stay there until the storm passes.

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

He told reporters after meeting with emergency personnel in the state command center that his goal for the state is to have all services and equipment in place by nightfall, so officials can hunker down and be ready once Tropical Storm Barry comes ashore during the dark hours of Saturday morning, maybe as Hurricane Barry. 

He suggested that the state residents do the same. 

"We are intending to have, in so far as possible, the state postured tonight, before it gets dark, the way we want to face this storm. I’m encouraging everybody out there to assume the same posture. If you are in one of the area’s at risk, which includes a huge portion if south Louisiana tonight, be where you want to be and have what you need to have on hand,” Edwards said.

The storm is expected to move slowly and take the entire day to pass through the state, but should clear the area south of the Interstate 10/Interstate 12 corridor by Saturday afternoon.

St. Mary’s Parish, where the storm is expected to come ashore, started evacuating at noon Friday, Edwards said. Residents in low lying areas of Jefferson, Plaquemines, Lafourche, and Calcasieu parishes already have left their homes and businesses.

For the first time in history all the flood gates within the hurricane protection area in south Louisiana have been closed. Edwards says no overtopping of Mississippi River levees is expected.

The storm track has moved slightly west, but the cone covers almost the entire coast and tropical storm-force winds are expected as far north as Alexandria. But this will primarily be a rain event.

“We are looking at 10-20 inches (of rain) with some areas receiving 25 inches” during a 24-hour period, Edwards said. “The real danger in the storm was never been about the wind anyway, it has always been about the rain."

Edwards said with saturated grounds and heavy rainfall, not much wind is necessary to fell a tree or a utility pole. He expects widespread power outages that won’t be quick to repair because conditions need to be safe before workers can start. "But the lack of electricity in many areas, and we can't predict where it's going to happen and how long it is going to exist, but that is another threat of this storm," Edwards said.

Edwards said the state is better prepared for this storm than those in the past, thanks largely to the lessons from all the previous hurricanes, torrential rains and everyday bad weather Louisiana has endured.

“The levees are stronger than they have ever been,” Edwards said. “The system is tighter than it has ever been.”

“There is a process of continual improvement,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who attended the briefing.

President Donald Trump declared an emergency Thursday night and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts because of Tropical Storm Barry. The declaration means a seamless coordination of federal and state disaster relief efforts. For instance, search and rescue teams already are heading for Louisiana from Texas because the president’s declaration allows it.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.