Hurricane Barry didn't spawn the wind damage or flash floods that leaders in East Baton Rouge Parish had expected, but it did give city-parish officials a sort of dry run to workout any kinks in their emergency response protocols as the 2019 hurricane season continues.
"We can always do a little better on certain things, but overall I think we did really well," Clay Rives, director of the Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Monday. "It was a great opportunity to go over our plans, and even though we didn't have to exercise them, we still had to go through all the motions."
First responders in the city-parish had braced for the worse when weather forecasters estimated the tropical storm system could dump up to 25 inches of rain over parts of south-central and southeastern Louisiana, which would have exceeded the rain totals seen in some areas ahead of the historic 2016 floods.
But by Saturday night, Barry had shifted westward and failed to gather the strength forecasters thought it would, which significantly dropped rain totals for much of the region.
Tropical Storm Barry had all but left the Baton Rouge region by Sunday as a storm that paled in comparison to forecasters’ predictions of swol…
The storm generated intense bursts of heavy rain on its way out on Sunday, along with funnel cloud sightings and small-scale floods that kept the community’s nerves on edge for one more day.
Rives said most of MOHSEP's emergency response team was able to demobilize around 7 p.m. Sunday as the weakened outer bands of the storm system moved across the parish on their way out of the state.
Since Friday, crews with the city-parish's Department of Public Works had removed 59 trees from roadways and were working with Entergy to safely remove trees in areas where strong winds put power lines at risk.
Can't see video below? Click here.
The city-parish was still assessing storm damage and beginning storm debris collection on Monday. That process is expected to continue over the next three to four days.
Fred Raiford, the city-parish's director of transportation and drainage, said Barry caused very minimal flooding on major streets and in neighborhoods.
After the widespread flash-flooding the parish experienced during torrential rains June 6, Raiford had crews clearing gutters and cleaning ditches in parts of the parish up until a few hours before Barry made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning.
The city-parish late last week also drained the Capitol Lake by 2 feet in order to accommodate additional rain and prevent flooding at a spot frequently inundated, the Interstate 110 curve near t he governor's mansion. Public works employees and the police department also staged barricades at nearly 20 flood-prone intersections and roadways in the parish in case they needed to quickly shutdown streets to prevent vehicles from getting trapped in standing water.
"We tried to do a lot of the things necessary to help facilitate the water flowing like it was supposed to," Raiford said. "We had time to plan this time. The June 6 rain event didn't give us that opportunity."
Baton Rouge area residents are facing the storm with “fear in their eyes,” but local and parish officials feel a lot better prepared than in 2016.
Raiford said in the areas where there was some Barry-related flooding, the city-parish will now focus in on those spots to determine what caused it.
"Our biggest concern was trying to minimize flooding in residential areas," he said.
Rives said his team will also spend the next few days reviewing the protocols and procedures that took place over the weekend to determine what gaps there might be, like having shelters set up a lot quicker.
"It takes a pretty large, logistical operation to do that," he said.
Like they did after the June 6 flooding, the city-parish will cull more damage assessment reports from the community to identify areas that were impacted.
"I’m very confident that if another storm approaches we’ll be able to respond and do what we need to do to protect health, safety and welfare of our citizens," Rives said. "We're getting better and better with each activation, and here in Louisiana and with an active hurricane season this year, we might have lots of opportunities to learn from."