NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall Sunday on the Louisiana coast, packing 50 mph winds and spinning dangerous weather as far east as northern Florida, where it spawned a tornado that uprooted trees and downed power lines.
The lopsided storm moved ashore between the mouth of the Mississippi River and the barrier island resort community of Grand Isle, which had been evacuated a day earlier.
Forecasters said the storm could dump as much as 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in some areas. In New Orleans, the question was how much rain would fall and whether there would be enough breaks in the bands of heavy weather for the city’s aging pumping system to keep the streets free of flood waters.
Residents of waterside communities outside the New Orleans levee system — bounded by lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne — were urged to evacuate Sunday afternoon because of the threat of an expected storm surge.
Rising water on Lake Pontchartrain pushed about two feet of water into the first floor of Rudy Horvath’s residence — a boathouse that sits on pilings over the brackish lake. Horvath said he and his family have lived there a year and have learned to take the occasional flood in stride. They’ve put tables on the lower floor where they can stack belongings above the high water.
“We thought it would be pretty cool to live out here, and it has been,” Horvath said. “The sunsets are great.”
Elsewhere, water covered the only road to Grand Isle and in low-lying parts of Plaquemines Parish at the state’s southeastern tip. “You can’t go down there by car,” shrimper Acy Cooper said Sunday of one marina in the area. “You have to go by boat.”
Though Cristobal was well below hurricane strength at landfall, forecasters warned that the storm would affect a wide area stretching roughly 180 miles (290 kilometers).
Sen. John Kennedy said in a news release that President Donald Trump agreed to issue an emergency declaration for Louisiana in recent hours. Gov. John Bel Edwards had issued a state emergency declaration Thursday.
In Florida, a tornado — the second in two days in the state as the storm approached — touched down about 3:35 p.m. south of Lake City near Interstate 75, said meteorologist Kirsten Chaney in the weather service’s Jacksonville office. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The storm splintered and uprooted trees and downed power lines.
Rain fell intermittently in New Orleans famed French Quarter on Sunday afternoon, but the streets were nearly deserted, with many businesses already boarded up due to the coronavirus.
Daniel Priestman said he didn’t see people frantically stocking up as in previous storms. He said people may be “overwhelmed” by the coronavirus and recent police violence and protests.
They seemed “resigned to whatever happens – happens,” he said.
At one New Orleans intersection, a handmade “Black Lives Matter” sign, wired to a lampost, rattled in a stiff wind as the crew of a massive vacuum truck worked to unclog a storm drain.
The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans said the city’s aging street drainage system had limits, so residents should avoid underpasses and low-lying areas where water can pool during inevitable street flooding.
Cristobal was moving north at 7 mph (11 kph). Tropical storm warnings stretched from Intracoastal City in Louisiana to the Okaloosa-Walton County line in Florida, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters said some parts of Louisiana and Mississippi were in danger of as much as a foot (30 centimeters) of rain, with storm surges of up to five feet (1.5 meters).
“It’s very efficient, very tropical rainfall,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook video. “It rains a whole bunch real quick.”
Much of Grand Isle wasn’t passable, Jefferson Parish Councilman Ricky Templet told The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate.
The Louisiana National Guard had dozens of high-water vehicles and rescue boats ready to dispatch across south Louisiana. Three teams of engineers also were available to help assess potential infrastructure failures, a Guard statement said.
In Biloxi, Mississippi, a pier was almost submerged Sunday morning. Squalls with tropical-force winds had reached the mouth of the Mississippi River and conditions deteriorated even before Cristobal’s Louisiana landfall, the hurricane center in Miami said.
Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, called for voluntary evacuations Saturday of Jean Lafitte, Lower Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria because of the threat of storm surge, high tides and heavy rain. Residents were urged to move vehicles, boats and campers to higher ground.
A similar order was issued for several Plaquemines Parish communities. The parish’s president, Kirk Lepine, said the order was issued as a precaution.
Associated Press reporter Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this report.