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.