Tropical Storm Barry nears Louisiana coast, thousands lose power

Tropical Storm Barry Already Impacting Gulf Oil Production

Barry had strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane by Saturday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour (120 kph), the National Hurricane Center said.

But he warned at a news conference on today that the storm is just beginning and the state faces significant threats in the days ahead.

Barry was seen as a test of beefed-up flood defenses put in place since Hurricane Katrina, which left much of New Orleans underwater and killed about 1,800 people in 2005.

In Lafayette, Willie Allen and his 11-year-old grandson, Gavin Coleman, shovelled sand into 20 green bags, joining a group of more than 20 other people doing the same thing during a break in the rain. "Time is short. If you have preparations that you need to complete now is the time". "That is just an wonderful amount of moisture", he said. It is estimated that Barry became a hurricane around 6am to 7am despite the less than classical appearance on satellite. Officials were still confident that New Orleans' levees would hold firm.

A hurricane warning is in effect along a part of the Louisiana coast while areas farther inland like the lower Mississippi Valley are under tropical storm warnings.

A resident of Morgan City tosses back one of the many sandbags he has filled to help secure his home from Tropical Storm Barry.

Chevron Corp (CVX.N), Phillips 66 (PSX.N), Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L) were preparing for heavy rain and wind at refineries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Upon landfall, it was significantly weaker than expected and reduced to a tropical storm, but still resulted in flooding throughout the coast along the Gulf of Mexico.

"So we're hoping that we get some heavy rain, that it stops and lets us catch up, and we're ready for the next batch", he added.

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"I'm out here trying to get some sand to support around my house", he said. But officials warned that it could still cause disastrous flooding across a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast. "Right now, our primary focus is to respond to Midwest flooding that is happening within our region".

Mike Yenni, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, said the community had taken the "unprecedented" step of closing hundreds of flood gates, largely due to near-historic high levels of the Mississippi River.

Tens of thousands of customers were without power in Louisiana hours before the storm made landfall.

Downpours also lashed coastal Alabama and Mississippi. In addition, trees will come down and some power outages are expected.

All inbound and outbound flights to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport have been canceled as as of 7 a.m. CDT.

There won't be much movement overnight into Sunday with heavy rain still falling over southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi.

Fifteen production platforms and four rigs were evacuated in the north central Gulf of Mexico, according to a US regulator as oil firms moved workers to safety ahead of a storm expected to become a hurricane by Friday.

Forecasters predict the storm will move into Central Louisiana by Saturday night and enter Northern Louisiana by Sunday. The rain will begin to expand northward into Arkansas and southern Tennessee later in the day.

Hurricane force winds were confined to a small area just east of the center of the storm. "While the storm's movement west is a promising sign that Barry's impact on New Orleans may be less than first predicted, we're not letting down our guard".

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