New Orleans holding up under Tropical Storm Lee

NEW ORLEANS,  (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Lee moved  slowly across southern Louisiana on Sunday as New Orleans’  flood defenses appeared to pass one of their biggest tests  since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.

The National Hurricane Center said Lee’s center was about  110 miles (177 km) west-northwest of New Orleans, with maximum  sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph) at around 5 p.m. EDT (2100  GMT), and tropical storm-force winds extending 275 miles (445  km). The storm was moving at 5 mph (7 kph).

Winds were expected to weaken gradually in the next couple  of days and up to 20 inches (51 cm) of rain was expected to  fall on southeast Louisiana, the Miami-based center said.
The storm has temporarily shut over 60 percent of offshore  oil production.

In New Orleans, the storm recalled Hurricane Katrina, which  flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused  more than $80 billion in damage to the tourist destination. Lee  has dropped up to 13 inches (33 cm) of rain on New Orleans  since it developed late last week.

Half the city lies below sea level and is protected by a  system of levees and flood gates.

Some street flooding was reported, but the city’s massive  pumping system kept ahead of the volume and diverted the waters  into Lake Pontchartrain.

Low-lying parishes around New Orleans did not fare as well,  as Lee’s winds drove a tidal surge over levees and onto roads.

“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,”  Lafourche Parish spokesman Brennan Matherne said. “We’re  getting call after call about street flooding.”

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned residents to stay  alert for flash floods and high winds expected before Lee moves  to the northeast on Monday.

“Let’s not be lulled to sleep by the breaks that we’ve  had,” Landrieu said.

New Orleans’ levees saw less stress because Lee’s winds  were too weak to drive a massive storm surge into the city, as  was the case during Katrina.

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