LAKE CHARLES, La. — The remnants of Hurricane Harvey forced hundreds of evacuations in Louisiana, as the western part of the state braces for the storm to make landfall. In New Orleans, officials feel optimistic enough about the forecast to open schools on Wednesday.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at least 500 people were rescued Monday night and Tuesday morning due to chest-deep floodwaters in Calcasieu Parish, which borders Texas. Nearly 300 people are in shelters, Edwards said. While the outer bands of the storm have been pelting the state, Louisiana Harvey is expected to make landfall on the Louisiana-Texas border late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
At a news conference here, Edwards urged people to “prepare and pray” and said officials are most worried about the storm’s impact on western Louisiana. He implored people not to drive through water if they don’t know its depth or how swift the current may be.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Bill Doran of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
Edwards said 375 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been deployed, including 15 to monitor pumps in New Orleans. The state offered to open shelters in northern Louisiana for people evacuated from Texas, and will be providing fuel to the Cajun Navy to assist with rescue efforts in Houston and the surrounding areas.
The storm, Edwards said, “has tremendous potential to continue to drop heavy amounts of water and prevent people from going about their normal daily business in a safe manner.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the heaviest rains from the storm are expected to hit Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, causing the potential for localized street flooding. The city distributed over 63,000 sandbags and cleaned 1,358 catch basins. Landrieu said the forecast improved enough to open city schools and public buildings on Wednesday, but he tweeted that New Orleans is “not yet in the clear” and urged people to remain vigilant.
“The weather outlook got a little better for us,” he said.
Tuesday is the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Western Louisiana, including parts of this city of 76,000, have seen between 15 and 17 inches of rain, with an additional five to 10 inches expected overnight, according to the National Weather Service.
“The biggest issue that we’re looking at with this storm is the associated landfall and potential for flooding,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said in a video posted to Facebook. He warned residents that if a neighborhood flooded Monday night it probably will Tuesday, and that a shelter is opening at the Lake Charles Civic Center.
“There is simply nowhere for the water to go at this time,” Hunter said.
Donald Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, said two tornadoes were confirmed in Acadia Parish, near Jennings, La.
By Tuesday evening, Harvey’s downpour flooded Tammy Picard’s Carlyss, La., front yard with two feet of water.
Her husband Jay Picard, 40, and son Ty, 17, hauled the family’s belongings by boat to the home of her daughter, Amber Gallegos, which is perched on a hill.
“It’s three inches from being in the house,” Gallegos, a 28-year-old mother of six, said of the floodwaters. “But by tomorrow, it should be in the house.”
“The house across the street has water in it already,” she said. “You look out the door and constantly see people with boats.”
Picard was still in the house, trying to decide which belongings to keep.
“Mama is bawling her eyes out,” Gallegos said.
Fain reported from Lake Charles, La., and Zezima from Washington. Ashley Cusick contributed reporting from New Orleans.