A swiftwater rescue team from the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security arrived in Pike County on Friday ahead of the anticipated Saturday morning landfall of Tropical Storm Barry, which is expected to dump more rain on Southwest Mississippi than anywhere else in the state.
Barry was expected to hit as a Category 1 hurricane by early Saturday morning when it makes landfall on the coast of Louisiana, according to forecasts. After landfall it will track north along the Mississippi River.
“Tropical Storm Barry continues to gain strength and organize,” Pike County Civil Defense Director Richard Coghlan told area officials at a Friday afternoon briefing. “This is going to be a torrential amount of rain.”
There is also a risk of possible tornadoes throughout Pike County as it is situated on the right side of the storm.
Barry maintained 55 mph sustained winds Friday afternoon and was located 100 miles west-southwest of New Orleans moving west-northwest at 5 mph.
Forecast models show the eye of the storm will contain gusts of wind around 80 mph by Sunday morning.
Pike, Amite, Walthall and Wilkinson counties, as well as Tangipahoa Parish, La., were among the areas included in a flash flood watch through Sunday morning.
Weather advisories warned of “life-threatening” flooding rainfall across portions of southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi along and west of Interstate 55, with the potential to lead to evacuations and rescues and flooded structures as rivers, creeks and streams top their banks.
Both the Bogue Chitto and Tickfaw rivers will be above flood stage by Monday morning, forecasts show.
At Friday’s meeting, Coghlan introduced Chris Olsen, a swiftwater rescuer from the state Homeland Security Task Force 1, to the crowd of local officials.
“We’ve got the Mississippi Homeland Security swiftwater team all around our area helping out,” Coghlan said. “Southwest Mississippi got Task Force 1 and southeast Mississippi got Task Force 2.”
Each team consists of 12 rescuers and two boats, Olsen said, adding that his team was only activated to provide assistance to local first responders if needed.
“They’ve got a great swiftwater team down here already but it could always be not enough,” he said. “I hope that we do nothing.”
While much of the anxiety surrounding a tropical storm has to do with damage due to excessively high winds, it is the flooding that is the most deadly aspect of tropical storm systems, Coghlan said.
“Eighty percent of the fatalities through a tropical storm system are from the risks associated with excessive flooding,” he said.
Municipal officials in McComb, Magnolia and Summit were expected to sign emergency declarations ahead of predicted flooding from Barry.
Pike County is expected to receive between 10 and 20 inches of rain over the weekend with up to 25 inches in isolated instances of intense precipitation.
The area could receive tropical storm-force winds early Saturday morning.
“Use this afternoon and evening to get organized and prepared,” Coghlan stressed at the meeting. “We’re going to see 20 mph winds Friday night and on in to Saturday.”
New Orleans, which saw flooded streets and stressed levees from a flooded Mississippi River before the storm arrived, started feeling tropical storm force-winds by Friday afternoon.
While coastal areas between New Orleans and Biloxi are expected to receive strong gusts of wind and high storm surge, in Pike County the main issue will be flooding, Coghlan said. The area will receive the bulk of the precipitation between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, forecasts show.
Bands of rain were expected throughout Friday evening and intensifying after the storm makes landfall.
South Mississippi and Southeast Louisiana and were considered to be at a “high-risk” for impact from Barry.
“These areas may experience life-threatening flash flooding,” Coghlan said.