Uncertainty In Louisiana As Possible Cat. 3 Hurricane Harvey Heads For Texas

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an emergency declaration Thursday, preparing the state for the possibility of flooding rains from Texas-bound Hurricane Harvey.

         Conditions were deteriorating along Texas's Gulf Coast on Friday as Hurricane Harvey strengthened and slowly moved toward the state, with forecasters warning that evacuations and preparations "should be rushed to completion."

         Harvey is forecast to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 3 storm.

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         Millions of people were bracing for a prolonged battering from the hurricane, which could be the fiercest such storm to hit the U.S. in nearly a dozen years. Forecasters labeled Harvey a "life-threatening storm" that posed a "grave risk," saying it could swamp several counties more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) inland.

         Fueled by warm Gulf of Mexico waters, the storm now has maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (177 kph), just shy of the benchmark for a Category 3 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

         Hurricane Harvey is following the perfect recipe to be a monster storm, meteorologists say. University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Harvey combines the worst attributes of nasty recent Texas storms: The devastating storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008; the winds of Category 4 Hurricane Brett in 1999 and days upon days of heavy rain of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

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         Rainfall is forecast to be as high as 35 inches through next Wednesday in some areas. Deadly storm surge — the push inwards of abnormally high ocean water above regular tides — could reach 12 feet, the National Hurricane Center warned, calling Harvey life-threatening. Harvey's forecast path is the type that keeps it stronger longer with devastating rain and storm-force wind lasting for several days, not hours.

         "This is a very serious storm," Edwards said at a news conference in Baton Rouge.

         Heavy rains are expected to extend into Louisiana as its winds spin counter-clockwise, carrying water from the Gulf of Mexico far inland.

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         National Weather Service forecasts had rainfall amounts as high as 15 inches in southwest Louisiana over the next seven days, and up to six inches in the New Orleans area.

         "It could be a lot more. It could be next to nothing," Barry Keim, the state climatologist at LSU, said in a telephone interview. "There's potential for some very, very big rains, depending on the track of the storm."

         Harvey prompted evacuation of offshore oil and gas rigs and platforms as it moved through the western Gulf. The New Orleans office of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement estimated 39 production platforms and one drilling rig had been evacuated by midday.

         Emergency officials in south Louisiana parishes announced locations where residents could pick up sandbags to stave off flooding. And parishes and municipalities urged residents to keep an eye on media reports and take steps to prevent or reduce flooding, including cleaning catch basins and clearing debris from streets around their homes.

         Edwards, who dealt with disastrous storm flooding in parts of south Louisiana just over a year ago, was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, head of the Louisiana National Guard, who said the state has positioned six boats and 15 high-water vehicles in the New Orleans area and can dispatch more to other parts of the state if needed.

         In New Orleans, where flash floods Aug. 5 exposed numerous problems with the pumps and pipes that remove floodwaters, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said improvements have been made and are ongoing.

         "We remain in a state of diminished draining capacity," Landrieu said. He said capacity has been increased since those recent floods and that 106 of 120 pumps are working. He also noted that intense and prolonged rain can flood parts of New Orleans even when the system is at full strength.

         When heavy rain two weeks ago flooded streets and buildings in parts of the city, initial statements by city officials that pumps were working at full capacity turned out to be false. Not only were some pumps out of service, there were problems with a turbine that generates power for the system.

         The head of the city's Sewerage and Water Board has since resigned, and a six-member emergency team is overseeing improvements.

Residents were faced with uncertainty.

         "There were people in canoes last time, going up and down the street," Jennifer Harris said outside her New Orleans home Thursday.

         "Given what we've been told from the past storm, we're really not sure what to believe, and we're really not sure what to expect."

         – by AP Reporters Kevin McGill, Michael Kunzelman, Seth Borenstein and Michael Graczyk


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