The suspense was the worst part.

Baton Rouge area residents spent Saturday morning waiting to see whether Hurricane Barry would devastate their homes and communities as it lingered in the Gulf of Mexico for several hours longer than expected before making landfall near Intracoastal City around 1 p.m. 

In the days leading up to Barry's arrival, officials had sounded an alarm, warning residents that the storm could cause as much damage as the catastrophic 2016 floods — the worst local flood event in decades whose impacts are still being felt in certain neighborhoods.

The comparison left some people panicking. 

Hype surrounding the storm's potential impacts in New Orleans, including whether the Mississippi River would overtop levees, also heightened fears as the nation's attention turned to the Gulf Coast in the days leading up to Barry's arrival. Residents had extra time to worry while the storm crawled across the Gulf and then ambled to shore on Saturday.

"It's more terrifying," said Candyce Bonnecaze as she helped her family and friends with final storm preparations late Saturday morning in the Comite Hills West subdivision off Joor Road, east of the Comite River. As the group of six watched a drizzle under their carport, they recalled the 2016 devastation of high water from the Comite, along with tornadoes that whipped through the subdivision just last month. 

A Saturday morning river forecast projected that the Comite River at Joor Road could crest at 34.5 feet early next week, a record high about 4 inches above the elevations three years ago. But worries of backwater flooding subsided as projected rainfall totals dropped Saturday afternoon, and later river forecasts are expected to show lower crests.

The Bonnecaze family's mission Saturday morning was to move a black and red 1931 Model A Ford that Bonnecaze's grandfather had restored several years ago. The truck experienced some water damage in 2016, so the family brought it to a friend's house in the same subdivision that hadn't flooded that time around. 

"The truck is the last thing I had for my father," Dina Bonnecaze, Candyce's mother. "So I'm not going to let it happen again."

She wasn't the only one taking precautions to prevent a replay of 2016.

Sandbagging operations supplied residents with some defense against floodwaters as parish officials opened dozens of locations in the days leading up to Barry's arrival. Unprecedented numbers of sandbags were distributed across Livingston Parish, more than double the amount in August 2016. 

"(In 2016) they could not comprehend what was coming, nobody could," said Livingston Parish Emergency Preparedness director Mark Harrell. "There was no warning with that one, so I think that's still in the back of people's minds." 

Crystal Reed, who lives on Dancy Avenue south of the Comite River in East Baton Rouge Parish, lost four cars during the 2016 floods. Their house flooded as well. 

Reed had propped sandbags underneath her new red Cadillac and around her carport in hopes of preventing more vehicle losses. 

"I always wanted a Cadillac," she said. "I was like, maybe if I put some sandbags around them, maybe they won't flood."

Reed tried to elevate everything in her house out of potential floodwaters' reach: She stacked picture frames on her kitchen countertops, lifted potpourri atop her refrigerator, piled white Nike Air sneakers on an armchair. Red beans simmered on her gas stove, and she said she hoped they would last her family for the next few days.

Still, she had her essentials stashed in her car, ready to go at any minute in case the water started pooling on her street again. She wasn't about to let down her guard even though Barry remained offshore. 

As the hours ticked by Saturday morning, officials encouraged residents to maintain a similar cautious approach.

"If you were like I was this morning, when you woke up, you were wondering where the rain was. I certainly was," Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre said during a news conference Saturday morning in Gonzales. "I will say this: I just don't want our Ascension Parish residents to be lulled into a false sense of security." 

The uncertainty surrounding Barry's ultimate impacts had not subsided several hours later, but the significant reduction in rainfall predictions offered a glimmer of hope to some worried residents. Forecasters had said the Baton Rouge area would likely see between 10 and 15 inches of rain over the next few days, possibly up to 20 inches. That changed to between 6 and 10 inches, according to an updated forecast released around 2 p.m. 

The storm's center was forecast to move into central Louisiana on Saturday night and pass over north Louisiana on Sunday. The track had changed slightly from earlier models, edging westward and away from Baton Rouge. 

Livingston Parish officials said the storm's new projected path would likely spare their residents from the devastation they experienced in 2016. But even before the rain had started Saturday morning, the parish was already closing roads that had become impassable as southerly winds pressed water north from Lake Maurepas onto land. 

Residents are still waiting to see how local rivers will react to the rain, which will determine the extent of backwater flooding. 

Several parishes announced curfews that would be imposed Saturday night.

Pointe Coupee Parish announced Saturday morning its decision to join neighboring Iberville Parish in instituting a curfew, which will extend from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Officials said it will be "strictly enforced" and only essential or critical personnel will be allowed on the streets. 

Livingston Parish also implemented a curfew from dusk to dawn starting Saturday night and extending until further notice depending on the storm's impacts. Officials said people who need to be out for work will be exempt.

East Baton Rouge officials entertained the possibility of a curfew for the parish, but announced Saturday afternoon that it didn't appear needed. That could change if conditions worsen.

"Our citizens have been listening and they have been preparing," Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said at a 3 p.m. press conference. "There is no chaos. There is order and cooperation, and for that we are all thankful." 

Officials announced Saturday morning that the Baton Rouge Airport would remain open during the storm but all flights scheduled for Saturday were canceled. Officials said they expect flights to resume Sunday. Passengers should monitor the airport's website for the latest information on flight changes. 

East Baton Rouge officials started days earlier deploying barricades to problem intersections in case high water made them impassable during the storm.

Shelters were opened Saturday across the region for people who needed to evacuate their homes. Some volunteers traveled to Louisiana from other states — including Florida, North Carolina and Oregon — to help. 

Thousands of people in the Baton Rouge area had lost power as of Saturday afternoon. Entergy said it has more than 2,900 workers across the state prepared to go out and restore power but a big limitation is that they can't send out bucket trucks when winds are greater than 30 mph. 

Downed trees presented another challenge in some areas. Authorities in several parishes reported trees falling on houses, including one in Baton Rouge's Broadmoor neighborhood that left a father struggling to patch his roof after a limb punctured a hole in his teenage daughter's bedroom while she was sleeping. She was uninjured, but her dad's car was blocked in the carport and the tree landed on a power line.

"It's one of those situations that you're told to avoid the tree to avoid electrocution, but there's no other access," said William Little, the father. "It's a sizeable live oak, and there's just no way the family can get out of the house."

Pete Gaynor, the acting Federal Emergency Management Administrator, made the rounds on national news outlets Saturday morning to tell the public the Trump Administration is ready to respond when the impacts of Barry are felt.

FEMA has about 30 people assigned to New Orleans and Baton Rouge for storm duties. Jeff Byard, associate administrator for the FEMA Office of Response and Recovery, said the agency didn't want to send more people in advance of the storm because they didn't want to take up hotels that may be needed by residents. He said there are teams in Texas that can be deployed as needed.

Staff writers Terry Jones, Elizabeth Crisp, Emma Kennedy, Jackie DeRobertis, David Mitchell, Charles Lussier, Joe Gyan and Kristen Mosbrucker contributed to this report.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.