NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans suffered no “major hit” from Tropical Storm Lee but residents should remain vigilant, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said on Sunday.
“I want to reiterate -- with an exclamation point -- that we are not out of the woods yet,” Landrieu said on Sunday afternoon. He added that streets are “mostly clear at this time, but that can change with a lot of rain in a short time.”
The city has seen up to 13 inches rain in some areas and is likely to receive more before the storm starts moving out sometime Monday afternoon, he said.
In a sign that New Orleans residents were confident the hazards were over, some 4,000 people had been partying into the afternoon at the Southern Decadence Parade in the French Quarter without incident, said New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas.
Some 730 electricity customers in Orleans and Jefferson parishes were still without electricity, and about 8 percent of flights were canceled out of New Orleans.
In spite of the weather and holiday weekend, Serpas reported the city was quiet.
“We had 602 calls for service last night, and we usually handle about 1,400 calls per night,” he said.
While flood waters continued to creep up onto major roadways in neighboring Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi on Sunday afternoon, drainage pumps in the New Orleans area appeared to be doing their jobs and keeping water out of all but the lowest-lying spots.
In Lafourche Parish south of the city, rain has been falling steadily since early morning. As tides pushed toward a peak, pressure on emergency officials continued.
“We’re getting call after call about street flooding inside the levee system,” Lafourche Parish spokesman Brennan Matherne said Sunday morning.
Rising water has closed several bridges over inland waterways and was lapping over highways in the area of Larose and Lockport in Lafourche, as tidal surges threatened several coastal areas and inland waterways on Sunday.
Lafourche is one of three parishes south of New Orleans that were under flash flood warnings Sunday. Several counties of coastal Mississippi also were under flash flood warning.
“For a while we got some false hope that we might be out of the woods, but we realized overnight we would get more rain,” Matherne said.
A Saturday evening pause in the squalls allowed drainage pumps to catch up with the water in many areas. In Grand Isle on the Louisiana coast, Mayor David Carmadelle reported that the sky actually cleared for a time in the evening.
“We could see stars for a while before the feeder bands resumed,” he said.
By Sunday, meteorologists reported rainfall totals from the storm ranging from six inches in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward to more than 14 inches in Marrero just across the Mississippi River from the city.
In coastal areas and along many inland waterways, the storm has become a case study in tidal surge, with stiff winds pushing Gulf of Mexico tides three to five feet above normal on Sunday.
“Southeast winds are still pushing tides up the bayous and making some roads impassable,” said Earl Eues, emergency management director for Terrebonne Parish southwest of New Orleans.
Jefferson Parish President John Young said bulldozers and dump trucks were at work to bolster barriers in communities that lie outside the levee system in the lower part of the parish next to New Orleans.
A mandatory evacuation was still in effect for Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria.
“It’s not a rain situation,” he said. “It’s the tidal surge,” he said.
Young is hoping for a wind shift that would begin to push the water back out of lower Jefferson Parish communities. But the impact of the surge was felt as far away as Mandeville, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, which is a massive estuary that connects to the Gulf through another waterway.
Water levels in the lake are running as much as three feet above normal, and with southerly winds gusting as high as 50 miles per hour, water has lapped over the seawall and flooded the Mandeville Lakefront.
The surge into Lake Pontchartrain has backed up water in all the streams that flow into the lake, causing flooding in businesses along the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville, among other spots.
Tides and rain are also taking a toll in St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans. Parish President Craig Taffaro said roads in the area of Delacroix and Hopedale are flooding periodically as rain bands pass through.
“For the most part we’re managing pretty well,” he said. “The problem is, the cumulative rainfall is mounting and the area is becoming saturated.”
Taffaro said some trees have fallen as their roots loosened. And he worries that residents may begin to roam about when they should not leave shelter.
“People are going to eventually get tired of sitting in their own homes and will want to venture out,” he said.
New Orleans was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused more than $80 billion in damage. Half of the city is below sea level, protected by levees and flood gates.
New flood defenses built since Katrina were holding up well, officials said.
Editing by Greg McCune and Karen Brooks