Officials in Texas began preps on Wednesday for a potential tropical storm or hurricane to hit within a few days as people in New Orleans dealt with heavy flooding.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said officials are gearing up for the storm currently moving across the Gulf that could affect large swaths of the state's eastern region this weekend. That storm system has already swamped streets in New Orleans could dump more than 10 inches of rain in regions north of the Houston area and East Texas.
Abbott said at a Wednesday news conference that Texas has mobilized several departments ahead of the growing storm's expected landfall. That includes activating the Texas Task Force 1 with four high-water rescue boat squads ready and having nearly 700 Department of Public Safety officers on standby for possible deployment.
“It is impossible right now to know exactly how severe this storm will become and exactly where it will go,” Abbott said. “What we're looking at in Texas, from the highest level of probability, is a very meaningful rain event and hence a potential flooding event for various locations.”
In the Houston area, some people are already stocking up with the goal of being ready just in case.
“We’re talking 72 to 90 hours from landfall, we typically have a better idea at this point,” said Jeff Lindner with the Harris County Flood Control District. “Every storm is different, so I’d be very cautious about comparing this particular storm to something that has happened previously.”
The National Hurricane Center says conditions appear favorable for a weather system in the Gulf of Mexico to strengthen into a hurricane as it approaches the United States coastline by this weekend.
Forecasters said the weather disturbance is expected to become a tropical depression by Thursday morning; a tropical storm by Thursday night and a hurricane on Friday. Forecasters said parts of the central Gulf Coast could see a total of up to 12 inches of rain, with up to 18 inches in isolated areas.
The center on Wednesday began issuing advisories about the weather system, even though it hasn't yet become a named storm. Forecasters are calling it "Potential Tropical Cyclone Two."
Lines of thunderstorms associated with the system ranged far out in into the Gulf and battered New Orleans, where as much as 7 inches of rain fell over a three-hour period Wednesday morning.
New Orleans streets turned into small, swift rivers that overturned garbage cans and picked up pieces of floating wood. Water was up to the doors of many cars. Other vehicles were abandoned. Kayakers paddled their way down some streets.
Valerie R. Burton woke up Wednesday to what looked like a lake outside her door.
"There was about 3 to 4 feet of water in the street, pouring onto the sidewalks and at my door. So I went to my neighbors to alert them and tell them to move their cars," she said.
It was all a grim reminder of sudden flooding that surprised the city during an August 2017 rain. That flood exposed major problems at the agency overseeing street drainage. It led to personnel shake-ups at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and required major repair efforts.
On Wednesday, the board said 118 of 120 drainage pumps were operational and the agency was fully staffed. But the agency's director says that much rain in such a short time would have overwhelmed any drainage system.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and said National Guard troops and high-water vehicles would be positioned all over the state.
"We don't know yet where this storm is going to land, but we know it’s going to be a big storm. A significant rain and storm surge event,” he said. “The entire coast of Louisiana is at play in this storm.”
Forecasters said Louisiana could see up to 12 inches of rain by Monday, with isolated areas receiving as much as 18 inches.
The heavy additional rain could push the already swollen Mississippi River precariously close to the tops of levees that protect New Orleans, officials said.
A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans said the agency was not expecting widespread overtopping of the levees, but there are concerns for areas south of the city. The river was expected to rise to 20 feet by late Friday at a key gauge in New Orleans. The area is protected by levees 20 to 25 feet high, he said.
Officials will start evacuating the Plaquemines Parish Jail Thursday morning. That's in a low-lying area south of New Orleans. A mandatory evacuation order is expected there Thursday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.