Barry strengthened into a category 1 hurricane on Saturday as it nearsthe Louisiana coast, US meteorologists said — prompting millions of residents of the southern US state to hunker down for expected major flooding.
At 10:00 am (1500 GMT), the storm was packing sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometres) per hour — just above the minimum to qualify as a category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest storm advisory.
The eye of the storm was located about 50 miles from Morgan City, to the west of the state’s biggest city New Orleans, and moving at a slow pace of six miles an hour — meaning that landfall could still be hours away.
But the outside edge of the storm was already punishing the US Gulf Coast with heavy rains. Authorities ramped up evacuations, airlines cancelled flights and flood gates were slammed shut.
In Morgan City, the streets were deserted. The Atchafalaya River had flooded its banks, and trees were already blown over in residential areas.
With Barry dumping rain across several southern states, federal emergency declarations were issued to help free up resources to address the storm.
Governor John Bel Edwards said New Orleans was well prepared to withstand the storm, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, but urged vigilance by residents across the state, tens of thousands of whom had lost power.
NHC Director Ken Graham warned of the potential for inland flooding: “It’s not just a coastal event.”