But in the Big Easy, locals and tourists wandered calmly through mostly empty streets under a light rain or sheltered inside to prepare for the expected onslaught.
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By Sunday morning, its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 45 miles per hour (72 kph), the National Hurricane Center said in its latest briefings. Barry was briefly classified as a hurricane when sustained winds hit 119 kph (74 mph). Compounding concerns, on Saturday the National Weather Service warned of extreme weather capable of producing tornadoes that was approaching St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish, to the west of the Crescent City, as New Orleans is affectionately referred to.
After landfall, Barry is expected to churn slowly northward through the Mississippi Valley through Sunday night. People used cellphones to see in the dark, and opened doors and windows to let the warm, sticky tropical air circulate.
In its latest update, the National Hurricane Center said the storm is expected to become a tropical depression as it loses energy while moving over land Sunday.
"There is no system in the world that can handle that amount of rainfall in such a short period", Cantrell said on Twitter. "That is off the chart".
Predictions for the heaviest rainfall have shifted west of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where just one to three inches are forecast.
Weather experts said this Saturday morning, the storm was upgraded to a hurricane, and residents are now sheltering in place.
Parts of Dauphin Island, a barrier island in Alabama 322 kilometres from where Barry was headed, were flooded both by rain and surging water from the Gulf, said Mayor Jeff Collier, who was driving around in a Humvee to survey damage. "So, our shelter is ready and open", she said.
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It's unclear why, although one possibility is exposure to fresh water coursing into the Gulf from flooding rivers and a Louisiana spillway that diverts overflow from the MS, said Teri Rowles, head of a NOAA program on stranded marine mammals.
"I do want to clear up a little bit of misinformation going around: The overtopping that has occurred in Plaquemines Parish is not the MS levee", Edwards said Saturday in a CNN report.
Officials said they were anxious the water could close Highway 23, cutting off a key road and the rest of the parish to the south.
In Alabama on Saturday, flooding closed some roads in low-lying areas of Mobile County in Alabama, and heavy rains contributed to accidents, said John Kilcullen, director of plans and operations for Mobile County Emergency Management Agency.
Radar shows extremely heavy rain in south central Louisiana near New Iberia where a flash flood warning is in effect.
As much as 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain could fall in some areas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 1 p.m.in NY. But forecasts showed the storm on a path toward Chicago that would swell the Mississippi River basin.
Governors declared emergencies in Louisiana and MS, and authorities took closed floodgates and raised water barriers around New Orleans.
Customers line up to make last-minute purchases at a convenience store near the French Quarter as rainfall from Hurricane Barry begins on July 12, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The levees protecting the city range from about 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 metres) in height.
While New Orleans authorities refrained from ordering evacuations and advised residents to shelter in place instead, tourism officials reported an exodus of hotel guests checking out early on Friday.
Baton Rouge, which was devastated by floods in 2016, was similarly quiet Saturday, with puddles left from overnight rains, wind shaking the trees and only a few cars and trucks on thoroughfare Interstate 10.