Final blast of torrential rains unleashed by weakened Barry

NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Depression Barry spared New Orleans from catastrophic flooding, but it still swamped parts of Louisiana with up to 17 inches (43 centimetres) of rain and transformed part of the Mississippi Delta into “an ocean.”

Although Barry was downgraded from a tropical storm Sunday afternoon, its torrential rains continued to pose a threat Monday. Much of Louisiana and Mississippi were under flash-flood watches, as were parts of Arkansas, eastern Texas, western Tennessee and southeastern Missouri.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents to be cautious as they ventured outside after a weekend in which many had sheltered indoors.

He said he was “extremely grateful” that the storm had not caused the catastrophic floods that had earlier been forecast. More than 90 people had been rescued in 11 parishes, but there were no reports of weather-related fatalities, Edwards said.

“This was a storm that obviously could have played out very, very differently,” he said. “We’re thankful that the worst-case scenario did not happen.”

But Barry was still proving disastrous in parts of Louisiana, particularly in areas north of Lake Charles where streams and rivers were on the rise. Up to 17 inches (43 centimetres) has fallen in isolated spots in that part of the state, the National Weather Service stated in one of numerous flash flood warnings issued Monday.

“Please don’t drive through these flooded areas,” Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso pleaded with motorists.

“I noticed our rivers coming up real quick,” Mancuso said in an interview aired on KPLC-TV . “It’s just very serious right now.”

In Mississippi, forecasters said 8 inches (20 centimetres) of rain had fallen in parts of Jasper and Jones counties, with several more inches possible. An additional 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimetres) was expected Monday in the western part of the state, including parts of the rural Delta that have been flooded for months from the Mississippi River and its backwaters.

“The South Delta has become an ocean,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant wrote on Twitter on Monday.

He’s calling on the federal government to build pumps to drain water from the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers. The EPA shelved the project in 2008 amid concerns about wetlands and wildlife. The Trump administration has said it might reconsider that decision.

Forecasters had warned of a continued threat of heavy rains into Monday as the centre of the storm trudged inland. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sunday parts of south-central Louisiana could still have rainfall totals of up to 12 inches (30 centimetres), with isolated pockets of 15 inches (38 centimetres).

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Sunday the city was “beyond lucky” that rainfall there fell well short of early predictions of a deluge that could overwhelm the city’s pumping systems.

“We were spared,” she said at a news conference, while noting the city was ready to help nearby parishes hit harder.

About 51,000 customers in Louisiana, 1,800 customers in Mississippi and another 1,700 customers in Arkansas were without power Sunday night, according to poweroutage.us.

Edwards thanked the public for taking officials’ warnings seriously over the weekend, but he also reminded residents that it is still relatively early in the Atlantic’s hurricane season.

“Based on what we’ve experienced, I think (we will be) even better prepared for next time — and we do know that there will be a next time,” Edwards said.

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