WASHINGTON — As Tropical Storm Barry approached landfall in Louisiana, state and federal officials were working to get resources positioned for a worst-case scenario, with high-water vehicles, soldiers and helicopters ready to deploy if needed.
[Update, 10 a.m. Saturday: Barry has been upgraded to a hurricane.]
"No one should take this storm lightly," Gov. John Bel Edwards said after the latest Unified Command Group meeting Friday afternoon. “You never know what Mother Nature is going to serve until she has served it.”
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Louisiana late Thursday evening — just hours after Edwards and the state's Congressional delegation urged him to.
The declaration gave the state access to additional federal resources before the storm reached the Gulf Coastline. It also kickstarted the enhanced federal reimbursement for state and local costs to prepare for the storm.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 6 coordinator Tony Robinson, who helped the state through the 2016 flood response, is in Louisiana and has been meeting with Edwards.
“We are currently working with the state to have search and rescue assets in place overnight," he said in a separate briefing with reporters Friday afternoon.
FEMA has about 30 people already in place in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, in addition to the some-300 people who have been in the state to work on continued recovery efforts from past disasters. Robinson said more are prepared to come to Louisiana as needed in the wake of the storm.
The Louisiana National Guard has prepositioned a number of high-wheeled vehicles and more than 3,000 guardsmen throughout south Louisiana to assist with rescues and evacuations.
"Our focus right now is in the greater New Orleans area, the North Shore, Florida Parishes through Baton Rouge and Acadiana," said Louisiana National Guard Adjutant General Glenn Curtis.
More than 1,000 of the soldiers have been positioned in the New Orleans area — most at Convention Center in New Orleans and the Alario Center in Westwego.
In addition to high-water vehicles and boats staged in more than 20 communities across the possible affected areas, the Air National Guard has multiple helicopters positioned in Hammond, Lake Charles and Alexandria to use as needed, Curtis said.
In anticipation of possible evacuations the state has positioned 300 buses in three staging areas: Zephyr Field in New Orleans, Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, and at a site in Lafayette.
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said there will be several charter buses that are ADA compliant.
"We are prepared to move folks as quickly as possible," he said.
Wilson said the state also has prepared for the need for debris-removal vehicles.
"We have already pulled the trigger to begin that," he said.
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