RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
New Orleans is about to get hit with a storm, which is a thing that has happened many times over the years. But because of the profound devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, even the suggestion of rain and flooding in that part of Louisiana triggers a lot of concern. And the National Weather Service says, by tomorrow, there could be up to 25 inches of rain in parts of the state. It's not a hurricane yet, but Tropical Storm Barry is coalescing in the Gulf of Mexico and expected to make landfall on Saturday morning. Officials say water, not wind, is going to be the greatest danger.
Here's New Orleans' mayor, LaToya Cantrell.
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LATOYA CANTRELL: We do expect that this storm will be slow-moving. What that means is that there is a possibility, as it's moving slow, that we're going to get heavy rainfall for up to 48 hours - it could be.
MARTIN: New Orleans already flooded this week when a different storm dropped 7 inches of rain within a couple hours. Elsewhere, parts of some low-lying parishes are evacuating.
Casey Tingle is deputy director at the governor's office of emergency preparedness. He is in Baton Rouge and joins us this morning. Thank you so much for being with us.
CASEY TINGLE: Good morning. Thank you.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about the situation right now?
TINGLE: Sure. So this morning, we are finalizing sort of the final preparations in advance of the storm coming onshore and the rainfall starting later today and into the weekend. So we're really doing two things. We're making final preparations of anything that can be done, pre-event, and making sure that we have positioned the resources, should they be necessary post-event, to do things like search and rescue, provide resources, power generation and those sorts of things.
MARTIN: We mentioned, though, that New Orleans had already been hit with some flooding before this. What are the conditions like on the coast?
TINGLE: On the coast, it's - you know, the Louisiana coastline is vulnerable to these sorts of storm surge event. There are parts of the coast that are unprotected. And certainly, we've had a coastal erosion problem along the state's coast for a number of years, and so it is vulnerable.
However, after Hurricane Katrina, great expense and effort was made to harden the coastline, particularly the Greater New Orleans area, from a storm surge event. However, this one is unique because of the extreme amount of flooding that has come down the Mississippi River not just recently, but over several months - creates an opportunity where a storm surge could actually come up the Mississippi River. So that's something that we've been paying very close attention to.
MARTIN: So - I mean, so far, the National Weather Service is saying that the storm surge will stay just below the levees in New Orleans. But are you saying - you have to be prepared for that not to happen.
TINGLE: So what we did was we did an analysis of the levees, working with our local levee board officials and the Corps of Engineers and our coastal protection and restoration authority to identify any low spots based upon the higher forecast that was earlier this week, and took some actions to actually harden some of those areas with sandbags or with other measures.
And then what parishes did - like Plaquemine - Lower Plaquemines Parish - they called some for evacuations just to be on the safe side there and to take, you know, protective measures. Certainly, the forecast is not indicating that there will be overtopping at this time, but we wanted to go ahead and do what we could to identify those spots that we could do something about and then monitor it very closely.
MARTIN: Although New Orleans officials haven't ordered evacuations yet, do you see that likely to change or - why hasn't that happened?
TINGLE: I don't see that likely to change. So the - a full coastal evacuation is a very big muscle movement and requires lots of time and coordination. And the nature of this event, which is very unique - really just forming over the last, you know, 24 hours and starting to form up right off of the coastline - just didn't provide either the wind and significant storm surge levels that would call for an evacuation or the time to facilitate a safe evacuation.
And so it's really going to be a situation where we think the main risk is rainfall...
TINGLE: ...And that's the primary thing that we are watching out for...
MARTIN: All right.
TINGLE: ...And doing everything that we can to be positioned, should significant flooding occur...
TINGLE: ...That we can keep everyone as safe as possible.
MARTIN: Casey Tingle with the Louisiana governor's office. Thank you so much.
TINGLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.