NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Barry took form in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and headed toward an already water-logged New Orleans, where it was forecast to make landfall as the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2019 season by late Friday or early Saturday.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (64 kph) as of 10 a.m CDT (1500 GMT) on Thursday, qualifying as a tropical storm, the National Weather Service said.
Forecasters issued a storm-surge warning for a stretch of Louisiana coastline south of New Orleans stretching from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Shell Beach.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” NWS forecasters said.
The slow-moving storm was located about 95 miles (150 km) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, the National Hurricane Center said.
While the storm did not yet have hurricane-strength winds, officials warned the heavy rainfall and storm surge it would bring could threaten low-lying New Orleans, which already has been hit by flooding.
Meteorologists predicted between 10 and 20 inches (25 and 50 cm) of rain would fall on the Gulf Coast on Friday and Saturday from East Texas through New Orleans and the Louisiana coast.
“The whole area is in for a soaking, the worst of it on Saturday,” said David Roth, a meteorologist from the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center.
The storm will become Hurricane Barry if it reaches wind speeds of 74 mph (119 km) as expected when it makes landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River and just west of New Orleans.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.
“The storm system will likely produce storm surge, hurricane force winds,” he said at a news conference. “No one should take this storm lightly.”
National Guard troops were in place across the state, the governor said.
U.S. oil producers on Wednesday cut nearly a third of Gulf of Mexico crude output ahead of the storm.
Fifteen production platforms and four rigs were evacuated in the north central Gulf of Mexico, according to a U.S. regulator as oil firms moved workers to safety.
The National Weather Service said the city had received 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 cm) of rain by Thursday morning, causing dramatic flooding in the area, including on Bourbon Street in the city’s historic French Quarter.
Officials advised residents on Wednesday to stock up on emergency supplies and ordered evacuations in some vulnerable residential areas.
Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta, writing by Scott Malone