St Bernard Parish Sheriff”s Office inmate workers move free sandbags for residents in Chalmette, Louisiana [Matthew Hinton/AP Photo]

Thousands of residents of the US state of Louisiana broke out sandbags or fled to higher ground Thursday as Tropical Storm Barry threatened to turn into the first hurricane of the season and blow ashore with torrential rains that could pose a severe test of New Orleans’ improved post-Katrina flood defences.

National Guard troops and rescue crews in high-water vehicles took up positions around the state as Louisiana braced for the arrival of the storm Friday night or early Saturday.

Barry could have winds of about 75 mph (120 kph), just barely over the 74 mph threshold for a hurricane, when it comes ashore, making

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