Tropical Storm Barry approaches Gulf Coast: PHOTOS

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Building toward hurricane strength, Tropical Storm Barry began hitting Louisiana with wind and rain Friday as it closed in for what could be a long, slow – and epic – drenching that could trigger severe flooding in and around New Orleans.

With the storm expected to blow ashore by early Saturday as the first hurricane of the season, National Guard troops and rescue crews were posted around the state with boats, high-water vehicles and helicopters. Drinking water was lined up.

Utility repair crews with bucket trucks moved into position in the region. Homeowners sandbagged their property or packed up and left. And tourists crowded New Orleans’ airport in hopes of catching an early flight and getting out of town ahead of the storm.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.