NEW ORLEANS -- Southeast Louisiana braced for its first taste of tropical weather in almost a half-decade as Tropical Storm Cindy, a poorly organized system that stalled while it meandered toward the central Gulf Coast on Tuesday, put local leaders on alert despite not being in the cone of error.
A tornado watch was issued until 10 a.m. Wednesday for an area from south central Louisiana to the panhandle of Florida. Sporadic power outages hit parts of the metro area with several buildings in Harahan and River Ridge losing power early Tuesday evening and more than 2,000 buildings in Lakeview without power closer to 8 p.m.
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Cindy’s projected path straddles the Louisiana-Texas border, putting metro New Orleans and surrounding parishes on the wet east side. The fact that the storm stalled for several hours Tuesday only added to concerns that soaking rains could pile on the water, something Louisiana is used to in recent years.
"Heavy rains and the possibility of the system stalling, that's our main concern," said Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Amos Cormier.
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By 10 p.m. Tuesday, parts of Belle Chasse had received upwards of two inches of rain, while further toward the coast, vulnerable areas like Port Sulphur had half a foot of rain already.
In Lower Jefferson, bar owner Ray Griffin says there isn't much you can do once you prepare, other than watch, and wait.
"The most heartbreaking thing to see your friends, your family, your customers with, in some cases, six to seven feet of water in their house," he said. "Unfortunately, it seems like we have to go through this every year."
Ken Graham, who heads up the National Weather Service’s New Orleans office, said during a morning press briefing at City Hall that the storm could dump as much as a foot of water between Tuesday and Thursday depending upon if Cindy makes any jogs to the west before it makes landfall.
“It is critical that we don’t just focus on that track, because the impacts are well outside that cone” he said referring to the outer bands that will lash the metro area.
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for the Louisiana Gulf Coast from Mississippi to Texas and a tropical storm watch for a small swath of the Texas Gulf Coast.
There was off-and-on rain throughout the day Tuesday. WWL-TV Chief Meteorologist Carl Arredondo said areas closest to the coast would start to see increasing effects from Cindy as early as Tuesday evening, while the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain should expect to see worsening conditions into the night and on Wednesday.
Officials in local parishes were keeping a close eye on the storm as myriad schools canceled summer camps and government agencies began to announce closures ahead of the anticipated weather. Lafourche Parish declared a state of emergency.
By in large, though, the tone from officials was a cautious one due to the uncertain nature of the track and the possibility that Cindy could drop as few as 3 inches of rain if the track shifted more toward the west.
“We’re gonna prepare for the worst … and hope for the best,” Graham said.
City Hall officials were preparing to begin round-the-clock staffing, while Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant said pump stations were fully staffed and all operational.
Meanwhile, local officials suggested people stock up on food in case traveling becomes troublesome in coming days and asked for help in clearing debris from catch basins to help rain water drain.
"The pumps don't work if the water can't get down the drain," New Orleans City Councilman James Gray said during the morning briefing.
The last tropical threat the metro area faced was Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
The Category One hurricane made landfall on Aug. 28, 2012, just to the southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was blamed for three deaths Louisiana and was responsible for $2.39 billion in damage.