Heavy winds and rains hit the northern Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Cristobal crawled on Sunday toward expected landfall in Louisiana, where downpours and rising waters swamped roads and prompted the evacuations of some low-lying areas.
The National Hurricane Center said tropical storm-force winds were lashing the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts as of 4 p.m.
Residents of exposed waterside communities outside the New Orleans levee system — bounded by lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne — were urged to evacuate on Sunday afternoon because of their vulnerability to an expected storm surge.
Water swamped the only road to Grand Isle — the resort barrier island community south of New Orleans where a mandatory evacuation took effect on Saturday.
It was a similar story in low-lying parts of Plaquemines Parish at the state’s southeastern tip, said shrimper Acy Cooper. “You can’t go down there by car,” he said on Sunday of one marina in the area. “You have to go by boat.”
Senator John Kennedy said in a news release that President Donald Trump agreed to issue an emergency declaration for Louisiana ahead of the storm’s expected landfall. Gov. John Bel Edwards had issued a state emergency declaration on Thursday.
Rain fell intermittently in New Orleans famed French Quarter on Sunday afternoon, but the streets were nearly deserted, with many businesses already boarded up due to the coronavirus.
Daniel Priestman said he didn’t see people frantically stocking up as he did before other storms. He said people may be “overwhelmed” by the coronavirus and recent police violence and protests.
They seemed “resigned to whatever happens - happens,” he said.
At one New Orleans intersection, a handmade “Black Lives Matter” sign, wired to a lampost, rattled in a stiff wind as the crew of a massive vacuum truck worked to unclog a nearby storm drain.
About 4 p.m. local time Sunday, the storm was centered about 65 miles (100 kilometers) south of New Orleans. Cristobal was moving north at 7 mph (11 kph).
With an expected landfall looming in Louisiana, tropical storm warnings stretched from Intracoastal City in Louisiana to the Okaloosa-Walton County line in Florida, the National Hurricane Center said.
Cristobal, packing top sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (85 kph) winds, was not expected to reach hurricane strength. But forecasters warned the storm, which spawned a tornado on Saturday in central Florida, would affect a wide area stretching roughly 180 miles (290 kilometers).
Forecasters said some parts of Louisiana and Mississippi were in danger of as much as a foot (30 centimeters) of rain, with storm surges of up to five feet (1.5 meters).
“It’s very efficient, very tropical rainfall,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook video. “It rains a whole bunch real quick.”
The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans said the city’s aging street drainage system had limits, so residents should avoid underpasses and low-lying areas where water can pool during inevitable street flooding.