LAKE CHARLES, La. — A weakened Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall in southwest Louisiana, leaving residents bracing Wednesday for more wind, rain and possible tornadoes and hoping water would stay out of their sandbagged homes.
The storm came ashore before dawn just west of Cameron, Louisiana, bringing maximum sustained winds near 45 mph (72 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Harvey had lingered over Texas for days before meandering back into the Gulf of Mexico.
Forecasters said there was a risk of tornadoes across a large part of the South as Harvey trudged northeast toward northern Louisiana. The national Storm Prediction Center said a few tornadoes were expected to develop Wednesday in northeast Louisiana and across southern and central portions of Mississippi. Tornadoes would also be possible across parts of southern and central Alabama, near the eastern edge of Harvey’s rain bands.
Another 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain could fall in western Louisiana, forecasters said.
“We are starting to get down to the end of the tunnel of all this rain,” Meteorologist Roger Erickson said.
Erickson warns that some coastal rivers won’t be able to drain effectively because Harvey’s winds are pushing in storm surge, aggravating flooding in areas already drenched by more than 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain. Gusts up to 50 mph (80 kph) are predicted for coastal areas and up to 40 mph (65 kph) in Lake Charles and along the Interstate 10 corridor.
Cameron Parish’s Office of Emergency Preparedness said a curfew was in effect until the threat had passed and checkpoints have been set up at entry points into evacuated areas.
State offices in 28 parishes and most Baton Rouge area schools won’t open Wednesday in anticipation of possible severe weather. Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to remain alert but said the state is responding well to less severe conditions in its own borders.
“You never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at us, but with the people in this room, I’m confident we can handle it,” he told local and state officials during a visit Tuesday to Lake Charles, which is near the Texas border.
Edwards said Louisiana also has offered to shelter storm victims from Texas. He said he expects Texas officials to decide within 48 hours whether to accept the offer.
Harvey’s devastating flooding brought back tough memories in New Orleans as Tuesday marked the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu opened his Tuesday news conference with a moment of silence for Katrina victims and words of support for Harvey’s victims in Texas and southwest Louisiana.
“We’ve got to save our house,” New Orleans resident Israel Freeman said as he loaded sandbags for his mother’s home into his Cadillac. “She already went through Katrina. She built her house back up. We just had a flood about two, three weeks ago. She just recovered from that.”
Bradley Morris lives in a ground-level house in New Orleans and was “preparing for the worst.”
“There’s plenty of puddling and stuff already,” he said, “so I just assume that we’re probably going to get a taste of what we had a couple weeks ago.”
Landrieu urged residents to stay home Tuesday because of the threat of potential high water. Some New Orleans neighborhoods flooded earlier this month during a deluge that exposed problems with the city’s pump and drainage system. On Tuesday, rains flooded a few of the city’s streets, but not to the same extent.
Meanwhile, near Houston, a shelter for at least 100 displaced people has been overrun by Harvey floodwaters, forcing weary evacuees to retreat to bleacher seats.
Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy Marcus McLellan said Wednesday that the Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur was inundated overnight due to overwhelming rainfall and a nearby overflowing canal.
Cots and belongings have been abandoned on the civic center floor, which is under about a foot of water.
McLellan says it’s not clear where the evacuees will go. Some have been at the civic center since Monday.
He says he’s not sure if a Salvation Army shelter in Beaumont has space, and the Beaumont Civic Center can hold 600 people but it’s already at capacity. Beaumont is just northwest of Port Arthur.
And in parts of southeast Texas, the National Weather Service has issued flash flood emergencies, including in Beaumont and Port Arthur.
KFDM-TV reports the situation in Port Arthur is dire as homes were expected to fill with rising floodwaters and residents unsure of how to evacuate the city.
Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens tells the station that county resources cannot get to Port Arthur because of the flooding and some residents have gone into survival mode.
Mayor Derrick Freeman said on his Facebook page that the “city is underwater right now but we are coming!” He also urged residents to get to higher ground, but avoid becoming trapped in attics.
Deputy Marcus McLellan says city’s 911 system has been inundated with calls, which are bouncing to other law enforcement agencies. McLellan says the sheriff’s office is working to relay those calls to the proper authorities in Port Arthur.
After five days of torrential rain, the latest weather forecast predicts less than an inch of rain and perhaps even sunshine for the Houston area.
However, the dangers remain far from over. Authorities and family members have reported at least 18 deaths from Harvey, while law enforcement agencies say more than 13,000 people have been rescued in the Houston area and surrounding parts of Southeast Texas.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also implemented a curfew of midnight to 5 a.m. in an apparent response to scattered reports of looting. Police Chief Art Acevedo said violators would be searched and arrested.
Two additional shelters — the Toyota Center and NRG Park — opened to house displaced residents. Louisiana’s governor also offered to take in Harvey victims from Texas, and televangelist Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch, a 16,000-seat former arena, after critics blasted him on social media for not acting to help families displaced by the storm.
Harvey is expected to come inland Wednesday near the Texas-Louisiana border.
In New Orleans, officials planned to reopen government buildings and public schools Wednesday, a day after they were shut down amid fears of flooding rain from Harvey.
“The weather outlook got a little bit better for us,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. He cautioned however, that a change in the forecast could mean a change in plans.
About 500 people were evacuated in southwest Louisiana’s most populous parish early Tuesday, as a heavy band of rain pushed waterways out of their banks, Calcasieu Parish spokesman Tom Hoefer said. He said as many as 5,000 parish residents were affected by the flooding, but not all of those people have flooded homes. Some are just cut off by flooded roads.
Evacuations continued Tuesday in some rural areas outside Lake Charles, with authorities working to empty a flood-prone subdivision near the town of Iowa. Officials in Acadia Parish advised residents near the Mermentau River and Bayou Nezpique to leave.
Family members and authorities in Texas have reported at least 18 deaths from the storm. No Harvey-related deaths were immediately reported in Louisiana, according to a spokesman for Edwards.