Thursday, September 13

Rainmaker: Southwest La. braces for deluge


(12:04 a.m. update)

Calcasieu and Cameron parishes today will likely endure the most rainfall and see the most flooding from Tropical Storm Humberto — a surprise storm that is drenching east Texas and Southwest Louisiana with potentially double-digit inches of rainfall.

It is expected to come ashore between High Island and Sabine Pass, Texas, by 4 a.m. today, according to the National Weather Service.

Its top winds at 10 p.m. were 65 mph and are forecast to reach hurricane strength over a small area near landfall. Tropical force winds extended 60 miles from the center at 10 p.m.

With the storm, heavy rain is expected in much of Southwest Louisiana overnight and throughout today.

Forecasters say 5-10 inches of rain are possible locally, with the heaviest rains coming between midnight and noon.

Tornadoes are a possibility during that period.

With tides expected to be 4-5 feet above normal, some coastal flooding is expected in Cameron Parish. Water on Main Street in Cameron is expected to be up to 18 inches deep.

High tides along the coast are expected to back up waters in area rivers, with the Calcasieu River expected to reach flood stage early this morning. Expected heavy rains may also become a factor in river levels.

“It’s definitely going to be the closest call we’ve had with a tropical system since Hurricane Rita,” Roger Erickson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles office, said late Wednesday.

As a precaution, five Southwest Louisiana parishes have declared a state of emergency.

“It’s an unusual event,” said Dick Gremillion, director of the Calcasieu Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness. “I’m not sure we’ve had one quite like this that changed so rapidly when it was so close to us.”

No evacuations have been ordered, but people in low-lying and flood-prone areas have been urged to take caution.

Cameron and Calcasieu public schools are closed for today, as are Calcasieu school system offices. Hamilton Christian School and Lake Charles Diocese schools in Calcasieu Parish also are closed.

McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College will also be closed. Their classes will resume Friday.

The Red Cross opened a shelter Wednesday night in the Lake Charles Civic Center for those in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes who were uncomfortable riding the storm out in their residences. Residents of FEMA trailer parks were offered public transportation to the shelter.

For those area residents needing transportation to the shelter, call the Office of Community Service at 721-4040.

“We just wanted to be proactive and make sure people had a place to go if they weren’t comfortable where they were,” Gremillion said. “We hope it won’t be needed.”

Few people, however, took up the offer for shelter, local Red Cross officials said.

Umberto became the eighth named storm of 2007 at around 1 p.m. Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.

The storm was 150 miles southwest of Cameron when it was upgraded from a tropical depression.

Acadia, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis and Vermilion parishes made emergency declarations as precautionary measures.

The system’s rapid intensification and proximity to land left little time for preparation, emergency officials said.

Gremillion’s advice is simple: “Secure yourself as well as you can and just stay home. Stay off the roads. There’s going to be a lot of high water and high wind, potentially.”

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