(NEW YORK) — The tropical system targeting Louisiana continues to strengthen early Thursday as residents in some coastal areas have been ordered to evacuate. The storm had yet to strengthen into a tropical depression by 5 a.m. Eastern time, but was expected to do so within a matter of hours. Storm surge, heavy rain and hurricane conditions were all expected across the north-central Gulf Coast in the next few days, according to the National Weather Service. A mandatory evacuation order was given in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, southeast of New Orleans. The evacuations were to start at 6 a.m. local time “out of precaution of historically high Mississippi River.””Plaquemines Parish Government has taken all precautions in preparing for Tropical Storm Barry,” Parish President Kirk Lepine said in a statement. “Additional rainfall, high winds, and storm surge are expected.”Heavy rains already inundated New Orleans on Wednesday, leading to street flooding, stranded drivers and flooded homes. As much as 9 inches of rain fell in the city, with more to come.New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell declared a state of emergency in the city Wednesday afternoon.”Because of intense thunderstorms, and the further potential for tropical or hurricane force winds and further thunderstorms, New Orleans may experience more widespread localized severe flooding and gale force winds that could result in the endangerment and threat of life, injury and possible property damage,” Cantrell said in a statement.The storm is slowly moving north at just 5 mph and was located 125 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River early Thursday.There have been hurricane watches, tropical storm watches, flash flood watches and storm surge watches issued for parts of the Gulf Coast Thursday morning. On the present forecast path, the system likely becomes a tropical depression or tropical storm during the day Thursday, when it will be given the name Barry.The system will likely reach hurricane status late Friday, before coming ashore in southern Louisiana early Saturday morning — potentially as a category 1 hurricane.The main concern with this tropical system is the extreme rainfall that will come to parts of the Gulf Coast beginning Friday and lasting through the weekend. The slow movement of the storm will bring heavy rainfall throughout much of the Gulf Coast and into the Mississippi River Valley.As much as 15 to 20 inches of rain is possible in parts of the area, especially in southern Louisiana.Major flash flooding is possible, as well as a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet along the Louisiana coast, including New Orleans.Current forecasts show the Mississippi River will crest at 20 feet on Saturday. While flood walls and levees along the Mississippi River in New Orleans are designed to withstand this height, they will truly be tested.
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