NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of tropical weather that could dump as much as 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain in the state over the coming days.
Edwards issued the declaration Wednesday afternoon. It came after storms from a weather system centered in the Gulf of Mexico dumped an estimated 4 to 7 inches (10 to 18 centimeters) of rain on metropolitan New Orleans in a span of three hours Wednesday morning. That caused widespread flash flooding.
Forecasters say that system could become a tropical storm in the northern Gulf by Thursday night and a weak hurricane by Friday. In addition to dumping heavy rains throughout the state, the system could push up Mississippi River levels, possibly overtopping some levees on the lower part of the river.
New Orleans officials say the system of pumps that protects the city from being overwhelmed by floodwaters is in good shape as a potential tropical storm forms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban said Wednesday that 118 of 120 pumps are in working order.
Several inches of rain fell during storms Wednesday, flooding many city streets. Korban said that amount of rain will overwhelm any drainage system.
Even more rain is on the way. Forecasters said parts of the region could see a total of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain.
Flash floods hit the city in August 2017, exposing major problems with equipment and personnel at the Sewerage and Water Board and led to major leadership shake-ups at the agency.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans says they’re not expecting widespread overtopping of the levees that protect the city from the Mississippi River but there are concerns for areas south of the city.
The river has been swollen from heavy rains further north. Now a tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to push it even higher.
The spokesman, Ricky Boyett, says the river is expected to rise to 20 feet (6 meters) by late Friday. He says the New Orleans area is protected by levees 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.6 meters) high.
He says the Corps is working with local officials to identify any low-lying areas and reinforce them.
Boyett says officials are out every day inspecting the levees and they're "in good shape."
The National Hurricane Center says conditions appear favorable for a weather system in the Gulf of Mexico to strengthen into a hurricane as it approaches the United States coastline by this weekend.
Forecasters said the weather disturbance is expected to become a tropical depression by Thursday morning; a tropical storm by Thursday night and a hurricane on Friday.
Forecasters said parts of the central Gulf Coast could see a total of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain, with up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) in isolated areas.
The center on Wednesday began issuing advisories about the weather system, even though it hasn’t yet become a named storm. Forecasters are calling it “Potential Tropical Cyclone Two.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says a “considerable” amount of water could over-top levees that hold back the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area as emergency officials prepared for a weekend storm.
That’s because the Mississippi River is already swollen from spring rains as a tropical weather system builds in the Gulf of Mexico and could add about 3 feet (1 meter) of storm surge to the river.
Edwards said at a Wednesday morning news conference that he intends to declare a statewide disaster later in the day. He said National Guard troops were preparing to be deployed across Louisiana with high-water vehicles.
Forecasters expect a broad area of disturbed weather in the Gulf to become stronger this weekend when it threatens the region with torrential rain.
Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are all making preparations for heavy rain and possible flooding.