New Orleans prepares for tropical storm Lee as heavy rain and strong wind gusts knocked out power to thousands in south Louisiana and Mississippi on Saturday. Early this morning, torrential rains prompted a mandatory evacuation for the towns of Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria.
There were no early reports of casualties or major damage, reported the Associated Press. The streets of New Orleans are mostly clear, although some areas have “ponds” from clogged storm drains. The biggest concern is ongoing strong winds pushing water into low-lying areas of the city.
The center of the slow-moving storm was an estimated 45 miles southwest of Morgan City, La., but by Saturday afternoon there was light rain and occasional sunshine.
Early reports said the city is likely to receive 8 to 10 inches in the next days, with some areas likely to get up to 20 inches of rain over the Labor Day weekend.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency in 10 parishes, urging residents to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” and pay attention to weather reports for flash flood warnings.
“In addition to the rain, in addition to the primary concerns with the water, there is also going to be sustained periods of strong winds. We expect this winds on land,” Jindal said.
Although much of New Orleans sits below sea level, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told residents it was acceptable to park their cars this weekend on the raised medians that locals call “neutral grounds.”
Some feel that tropical storm Lee may test the levees rebuilt six years ago after Hurricane Katrina, but Landrieu said, “It’s not a time to panic. It’s time to prepare for what could occur.”
The Energy utility company reported more than 37,000 customer outages Saturday morning but by afternoon the number reduced to below 29,000 as electricity was restored.
The National Weather Service expects tropical storm Lee to move slowly across southern Louisiana tonight or Sunday. A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Alabama-Florida border all the way to Sabine Pass, Texas.