'Thousands of Louisianans broke out sandbags or fled to higher ground on Thursday as Tropical Storm Barry threatened to turn into the first hurricane of the season and blow ashore with torrential rains that could pose a severe test of New Orleans’ improved post-Katrina flood defenses.
National guard troops and rescue crews in high-water vehicles took up positions around the state as Louisiana braced for the arrival of the storm along its swampy southern tip Friday night or early Saturday.
Barry could have winds of about 75mph (120km/h), just barely over the 74mph threshold for a hurricane, when it comes ashore, making it a category 1 storm, forecasters said.
But it is expected to bring more than a foot and a half (45cm) of rain in potentially ruinous downpours that could go on for hours as the storm passes through the metropolitan area of nearly 1.3 million people and pushes slowly inland.
Officials in New Orleans itself declined to issue evacuation orders, instead recommending on Thursday that residents “shelter in place”, store up several days of supplies, and move vehicles to higher ground.
Barry is expected to turn into the first hurricane of the season by Friday, coming ashore along the Louisiana-Mississippi-Texas coastline and pouring more water into the already swollen Mississippi River.
Forecasters said the biggest danger in the days to come is not destructive winds but heavy rain as the slow-moving storm makes its way up the Mississippi valley.
Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, declared an emergency and said national guard troops and high-water vehicles will be positioned all over the state.'
Read more: New Orleans: evacuations ordered as city braces for possible hurricane
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