Storm Lee Floods Louisiana

Storm Lee grew weaker and was chugging along as a tropical depression Monday, but it still threatened to bring flash floods and tornados to the southern United States.

Louisiana’s governor declared a state of emergency, saying flooding was the state’s “primary concern” after Lee came ashore 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Lafayette, packing sustained winds of 45 miles per hour.

Late Sunday, the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings for Harrison, Hancock, Forrest, Perry and Covington counties of the state of Mississippi.

Other areas issued tornado warnings as well.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said the depression was slowly moving east and was expected to turn northeast early Monday, a week after Hurricane Irene battered America’s east coast causing devastation.

The weather phenomenon now had sustained winds of 35 miles (55 kilometers) an hour, the center said.

President Barack Obama, speaking in Paterson, New Jersey where he viewed damage, met with distraught residents and was briefed on response and recovery efforts, pledged that “all those communities that have been affected” by storms would be supported.

“There’s been some talk about whether there’s going to be a slowdown in getting funding out here, emergency relief,” Obama said.

“I want to make it very clear that we are going to meet our federal obligations — because we’re one country, and when one part of the country gets affected, whether it’s a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, or a hurricane that affects the Eastern Seaboard, then we come together as one country and we make sure that everybody gets the help that they need.”

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency in several counties, urging residents to “not underestimate the impact” of Lee.

Oil companies on Saturday evacuated workers from offshore rigs ahead of the arrival of Lee. The slow-moving but massive storm is expected to continue to draw moisture from the Gulf as it gradually drifts north to drench the Appalachian mountains and Tennessee River valley.

With some areas forecast to receive up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain over the Labor Day holiday weekend, officials warned residents of coastal states as well as landlocked Kentucky and Tennessee to prepare themselves for extensive flooding.

“A lot of it has been flash flooding where the water’s rising quite quickly,” said Corey Pieper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Roadways is where it gets really dangerous because people think they can make it across,” he told AFP.

Too often, the floodwaters are hiding the fact that the road has been washed out, he said. And even if it’s still there, the flood can be far more powerful than most people expect.

“It only takes a few inches of water to wash even a truck away,” Pieper said.

Lee was battering the Gulf Coast six years after the region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The levee system around New Orleans failed after Katrina, putting much of the city underwater. More than 1,500 people died.

Last Monday, on Katrina’s sixth anniversary, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that an upcoming Army Corps of Engineers report gives the levee system a “near-failing grade,” despite a $10 billion post-Katrina rebuilding job.

The intense rain that Lee was dumping on the city is expected to provide the most severe test of the levee and canal systems at Lake Pontchartrain and elsewhere since Hurricane Gustav came close to overwhelming the levees in 2008.

Last week New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the water pumps that are key to the city’s flood mitigation are “100 percent operational.”

By Saturday afternoon all 24 pumps were operating at full capacity and one station was forced to briefly switch to backup generators due to a temporary power failure

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