BATON ROUGE, La. — Tropical Storm Barry’s second day on land brought waves of both relief and worry Sunday. The slow-moving storm continued to kick up funnel clouds, tornadoes and sheets of heavy rain in parts of Louisiana, leaving some coastal communities with waterlogged homes and flooded roads. But the state’s largest metropolitan areas, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, appeared to have avoided catastrophic flooding.
One of the most serious concerns as Sunday dawned was the possibility that heavy runoff from the storm would swell the Amite and Comite rivers over their banks. The overflowing of those two rivers in 2016 contributed to a deluge that swamped thousands of homes. But Barry failed to deliver on the worst-case rainfall predictions, and many flood warnings were canceled later in the day.
It was a break met with joy in an area where some people had only just finished repairing houses damaged in the 2016 flood, and where others were still not back in their old homes.
The possibility of repeat flooding was “extremely emotionally stressful,” said Layton Ricks, president of Livingston Parish, just east of Baton Rouge.
Sunday’s forecast showed that the Amite was expected to crest well below the 46-foot level of three summers ago, when about 83% of the parish was flooded, including Ricks’ house. The 39-foot forecast meant the parish could “take a deep breath,” he said.
“Most of the rivers are actually behaving now because we did not get that 10 to 20 inches we were fearing,” said Christopher Bannan, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The storm came ashore on Louisiana’s southwest coast as a Category 1 hurricane Saturday, with sustained 75 mph winds, but it soon weakened to a tropical storm and then, late in the day, to a tropical depression as the winds slowed. It continued to rake the region all day with bands of heavy rainfall.
New Orleans was hit by slashing rain in the early afternoon Sunday, but it seemed increasingly likely that the storm would not stress the city’s floodwater pumping system the way a garden-variety rainstorm had when it sat over the city Wednesday, turning some streets into shallow rivers.
Many New Orleanians’ relief was mixed with frustration over what they saw as overblown reporting before the storm from national media outlets excited by the possibility of a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Scott Paisant, a veteran local radio personality who goes by Scoot, dedicated much of his Sunday talk show on WWL to the topic of storm hype.
“The national media made it seem as if the levees were overflowing, but it was like, it wasn’t actually a levee per se, it was beyond the levee,” he said, referring to video footage. “But they used that video to make it seem like the whole state was about to flood.”
Even so, Gov. John Bel Edwards reminded Louisianans in a statement that serious threats remained from the slow-moving storm, including “increased tornadic activity and a continued chance for more flash flooding as well, especially in the Acadiana region,” the traditionally Francophone area of prairie and bayous stretching west from New Orleans.
The National Weather Service warned Sunday afternoon that “life-threatening flash flooding” could still be expected along the storm’s path inland across portions of Arkansas, Mississippi, southeast Missouri and western Tennessee at least through Monday. “Significant river flooding is also likely across south-central Louisiana,” the warning said.
A tornado touched down in Denham Springs, a city east of Baton Rouge, around 8:15 a.m., the National Weather Service confirmed. Another possible tornado was spotted on the eastern edge of Baton Rouge around 10:20 a.m. Damage was reported, including a trampoline hurled into the air.
The problems were more intense in St. Mary Parish, where protracted rains and high winds conspired with a high tide from Vermilion Bay to send “extremely high” surges of water across low-lying areas and into small communities as the storm came ashore.
Rainwater washed across sugar cane fields, deepened swampy marshland and turned roadside drainage ditches into small rivers. National Guard troops using a high-wheeled rescue vehicle evacuated five people from their home at the Alice B Plantation, and more than 40 people from the communities of Baldwin and Glencoe took shelter in the Baldwin Community Center at the height of the storm. Most returned to their homes Sunday morning, but a few remained.
“I pray and just lay down and hope for the best in the morning,” said Troy Singleton, a 52-year-old sugar mill employee, who left his mobile home in Baldwin to take refuge in the center.
William Pieroe, a 36-year-old car detailer, rode out the storm’s fury in his mobile home in Baldwin before emerging Sunday morning in denim shorts and a gray tank top to make a trek to the One Stop convenience store.
He said he endured the storm while lying on the floor of his home, unable to sleep. “Strong winds, water in the house, trees falling — yeah, I was scared,” he said, recalling that the wind made a terrifying whistling sound. “Thank God, we made it through.”
Memories of Katrina’s deadly flooding linger in New Orleans, and some residents left in advance of the storm. Others, like Moyise Knox, a Lower 9th Ward resident, watched the forecasts carefully and decided there was little reason to go.
“Just tracking the direction of the storm, I knew it wasn’t going to hit here,” Knox, 66, said in the living room of his new family home. The old one was swamped by 20 feet of water after Katrina; he moved into the new one in December.
This storm proved to be little more than an annoyance, made worse by fears that New Orleans was going to drown again: “I had people calling me from all over — a cousin in Oklahoma, grandchildren in Texas, my relatives calling and saying, ‘It’s flooding there, you’ve got to get out.’ I said, ‘It’s not even raining!’ ”
In a news conference, Mayor LaToya Cantrell declared that “we absolutely made it through the storm.”
“Beyond lucky, we were spared,” she said. “It just seemed to go around us.”
But some in the city were still cleaning up from the flooding Wednesday. At the Broad Theater in the Mid-City neighborhood, Brian Knighten, 44, and his staff were cleaning up after the midweek rainstorm sent 2 feet of water into the theater — the fourth time it had flooded since 2017.
Knighten is convinced that the city will never be able to improve its troubled drainage system enough to keep homes and businesses like his consistently dry. So he has taken to installing his own flood-fighting equipment like backflow preventers in the theater.
“You as a citizen have to make the decision to stick it out because you love the music and second lines and the food,” Knighten said. “Or you move to a different place.”
East of New Orleans, Charlie Robin, a seventh-generation shrimper in the St. Bernard Parish community of Yscloskey, said Sunday that rain was threatening his livelihood. Between the Midwest floods of the spring and the storms of summer, much more freshwater than usual was running off into the Gulf of Mexico, harming the brown shrimp he usually catches at this time of year.
Now Robin, 67, had another worry: that the storm surge had pushed juvenile white shrimp into the tall grass along the coast, where he thought they might be killed by pollutants.
“Our brown shrimp was a total loss,” he said. “We don’t need another bad season.”
East of Baton Rouge at the First Baptist Church in Denham Springs, about 290 people turned up for the 9:15 a.m. Sunday service. Ashley Green, who runs a women’s group at the church, said a turnout of 800 to 900 people is more usual. “People are still afraid,” she said.
The spacious new church was built after the old one a few miles away was inundated up to the balcony in the 2016 flood.
Leo Miller, the pastor, told his congregation he grew physically weak Thursday when he heard how high local rivers were expected to rise. “I know what 41 feet in the Amite River means,” he said.
The service was interrupted at least twice by emergency alerts pealing from cellphones scattered throughout the congregation.
In downtown Baton Rouge, Lisa Trahan, deputy assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, stood in the cavernous Raising Cane’s River Center on Sunday afternoon.
She had managed a shelter in the arena after the 2016 floods, with nearly 3,000 people packed in for close to three weeks. But Sunday, she watched as her staff and National Guard troops broke down 500 cots that mostly went unused.
In the corner stood a stack of blankets, still in their factory wrappings. Trahan said it was a beautiful sight.
“I’m glad we didn’t have to unpack them,” she said. “All of this goes to the warehouse until the next time.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.