The National Hurricane Center warned that Cristobal was expected to bring rainfall of four to eight inches, sustained winds of 50 mph, possible tornadoes and a storm surge of three to five feet. The storm made landfall at 5 p.m. local time Sunday near Grand Isle, La., south of the city.
Though the strong storm that has moved across the Gulf of Mexico did not strengthen into a hurricane, New Orleans residents took the threat seriously, stacking sandbags in front of store entrances and parking their cars in elevated areas to avoid potential floodwaters.
Shoreline flooding from the surge and inland flooding from heavy rain were predicted to be the most widespread and serious hazards along the Gulf Coast.
A five-foot surge had inundated some coastal areas in southeast Louisiana and Mississippi as of Sunday afternoon. Six to 10 inches of rain had fallen in parts of the Florida Panhandle, with some of the storm’s heaviest rainfall concentrated between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.
While wind gusts were generally below damaging levels, they had been clocked at 40 to 60 mph along the coast in southeast Louisiana and Mississippi. Of greater concern were tornadoes embedded within the storm’s bands. On Saturday, a tornado that spun up on the periphery of the storm caused damage in Orlando.
Cristobal is predicted to be drawn north through Arkansas on Monday, then into Missouri, Illinois and the Great Lakes on Tuesday, intensifying as it merges with another storm system. The National Weather Service forecast office in La Crosse, Wis., tweeted that Cristobal’s remnants could go farther west across Wisconsin than any other post-tropical system on record.
The Hurricane Center was predicting heavy rain in southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi, with isolated amounts of up to a foot where there is a “high risk” of flash flooding. In New Orleans, nearly two inches of rain had fallen since Saturday.
The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board on Sunday warned residents that its drainage system was “old and can be vulnerable to storm-related challenges. Therefore, there will be street flooding.”
This is something to which New Orleanians have become accustomed. In August 2017, heavy showers pounded the city, overwhelming its pumping system and causing widespread flooding. Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged, forcing the governor to declare a state of emergency.
One of those businesses, Circle Food Market in the 7th Ward neighborhood, has become a symbol of the city’s history with flooding. Photos of the historic building underwater after Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal levees circulated around the world in 2005 and again after the 2017 storm.
But on Sunday morning, manager Sam Alassal did not seem worried. Though sandbags were piled outside and the windows were covered with plywood, inside the grocery store, it looked like just another day. There was no mad rush for supplies, just a few people casually shopping. Saturday was a bit busier, Alassal said, with water and alcohol being the biggest sellers.
“I’ve been here for 35 years now, so it’s kind of just another day for me,” he said. “It’s New Orleans. We’ve been through a lot through the years. If it’s not a hurricane, it’s a flood. We’re strong. We just gonna keep going. We’re fighters. We’re hustlers.”
In New Orleans East, where flood damage from Hurricane Katrina remains visible today, popular Vietnamese bakery and restaurant Dong Phuong still drew its usual weekend crowd.
Lou Tonore, 31, donned a mask while buying loaves of French bread on Sunday afternoon. Tonore took the least flood-prone roads to get there from his Uptown New Orleans home, he said, but the coming storm did not really frighten him.
“I’d be stressed about having to go to a shelter with the pandemic,” he said, noting that he is fortunate to have family in Baton Rouge should he need to evacuate for a storm this year. But Tonore had no concerns that Cristobal would become that serious.
City officials seem to agree. At a news conference Friday, Collin Arnold, director of the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program, said that despite the expectation of flooding, officials would not call for a city-assisted evacuation in advance of the storm.
Arnold did outline a plan to maintain social distancing measures should this storm — or any in the upcoming hurricane season — require evacuations.
“If there is localized flooding in an area that we would need to get into to move people, we have boats and high-water vehicles positioned around the city geographically that are run by the fire department, police department and EMS,” Arnold said. “We’ll utilize social distancing and N95 masks to move people, and we have a few rec centers on standby, socially distanced, that we can use for shelters.”
In other parts of the state, Cristobal’s impact varied Sunday. In Jefferson Parish, roadways in the coastal community of Grand Isle, which is under a mandatory evacuation order, were underwater by Sunday morning. To the northeast, in St. Bernard Parish, just outside New Orleans, some areas experienced light flooding, while in other areas, it seemed like a typical — albeit rainy — Sunday.
At Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Chalmette, La., pastor Marlon Mangubat led regular services Sunday morning.
Mangubat was looking forward to welcoming back a larger group of churchgoers, the first Sunday in which the state — with the exception of Orleans Parish — moved to Phase 2 of reopening during the pandemic. Though the local archdiocese has temporarily suspended the Catholic obligation to attend weekly mass, Mangubat was excited to see more returning parishioners. Cristobal thwarted those plans, as Mangubat canceled the church’s afternoon and evening services because of the storm.
“On top of the pandemic, with the storm coming, a lot of people are hesitant to be in groups,” he said. The decision was the safest one, Mangubat said, though disappointing after months of limited services.
“It’s frustrating,” Mangubat said. “On top of covid, there’s another natural calamity. I sometimes have to ask, ‘When is it going to stop?’ ”
Samenow reported from Washington.