A tropical storm moving toward the Gulf Coast is predicated to bring massive flooding to Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi this weekend, particularly in New Orleans where up to 20 inches of rain is expected.
Tropical Storm Lee will hit southwest Louisiana by Saturday afternoon. The storm is moving southwest of the Mississippi River with maximum sustained winds approaching 60 miles per hour. Flash flood warnings are in effect, covering Mississippi to Texas. A tropical storm warning is also in effect along the coast, stretching from the Alabama-Florida border to the Sabine Pass in Texas.
Lee will move southeast across Louisiana Saturday into Monday, according to the National Weather Service. On Friday, both Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared states of emergency for ten parishes in the state and New Orleans respectively.
IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irene
“The bottom line for folks is to know, regardless of what they call it, if you live in south Louisiana, especially southeast Louisiana, you are going to see a lot of rain between now and Tuesday,” Gov. Jindal said.
“Now is not the time to panic, it’s a time to prepare,” Mayor Landrieu said.
New Orleans is taking precautions by shuttering capital construction projects, closing libraries, canceling city recreational activities and allowing residents to park their vehicles on median strips known as neutral ground. The city says it will ticket vehicles that drive faster than 5 miles per hour down streets that have standing water.
Strong thunderstorms connected to Lee were already bringing heavy rain, up to 5.7 inches, to New Orleans Saturday. Hurricane-strength wind gusts of 60 mph have already been reported in the city, the National Weather Service said Saturday morning.
Flooding is reported in some areas of the city. Rainfall associated with the storm is already causing rising water elevation in some canals. The US Army Corps of Engineers shut down the London Ave. Canal late Friday afternoon and redirected its water into Lake Pontchartrain.
The Army Corps also closed the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock, which allows ships and barges to pass between the Mississippi River and the canal.
Rainfall is also causing some parts of the lake to flood roads in areas of nearby St. Tammany Parish. The National Weather Service reports a storm surge of 3.5 feet at New Canal Station. Flooding is also reported in the vulnerable, low-lying areas of Coin du Lestin, Kingspoint, River Gardens, and Bayou Liberty in Slidell as well as Bayou Paquet in Lacombe.
Road closures due to flooding were reported Saturday morning in Kenner and St. Bernard, communities adjacent to New Orleans.
Entergy Corp. is reporting that strong winds associated with Lee have left 19,000 customers without power in the New Orleans area.
The pending storm forced the evacuation of oil and gas platforms and rigs in the Gulf that are in the path of the storm. By mid-Friday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced that 169 production platforms, or 27 percent of the 617 platforms in the Gulf, have been evacuated. Production platforms are staid structures located offshore from which both oil and natural gas are produced.
The agency also reports the evacuation of 16 rigs, or 23 percent of the 62 rigs currently operating in the Gulf. Rigs are self-contained mobile structures used in oil and gas production.
The evacuation is resulting in a temporary shutdown of oil and gas production. BOEMRE reports that nearly 48 percent of daily oil production and 33 percent of daily natural gas production are both offline.
IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irene