Floodway Opening Could Spill up to 25 feet of Water on Louisiana Parishes

May 9, 2011

Opening the Morganza Floodway to protect Mississippi River levees from the pressure of floodwaters not seen since 1927 could spill water 5 to 25 feet deep over seven parishes, with some of the deepest waters near St. Francisville and up to five feet in Houma and Morgan City, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps has not said it will open the spillway, but it is considered likely. Whether or not it is opened, state officials say, people can expect floods like those in 1973 – the last time the spillway was used to divert water from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya, relieving pressure on Mississippi River levees from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico.

People in Pointe Coupee, St Landry, St Martin, Iberia, Iberville, St Mary, and Terrebonne parishes should get evacuation information from local officials, said a news release sent late Friday and again on Saturday.

It included a map of areas likely to flood, indicating that Krotz Springs could get 5 to 10 feet of water. Other threatened cities and towns could include Plaquemine, Berwick, Raceland and Mathews.

If the spillway is opened, it would be gradually, giving people time to evacuate and wildlife more time to find higher ground, officials have said.

The maps indicated that St. Martin Parish is likely to get 10 to 20 feet of water. In Butte La Rose, St. Martin Parish sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door Friday, delivering flyers asking residents to leave. Evacuation wasn’t mandatory, but many people started packing.

They included Katy Freshley, who said she and her husband planned to leave by the end of the coming week.

“Everywhere you look there’s something else that has to go, you know, and so we’re just going to do what we can,” she told KATC-TV.

“The furniture we’re concerned about – we don’t have a place to put that so we’re going to do the best we can,” said Freshley.

Jim Delahoussaye said he hadn’t decided whether to leave his riverbank home. “We can’t make plans until we get that number of the projected high water level,” he said.

The parish scheduled an informational meeting Tuesday evening at the Butte La Rose Fire Department.

Farther north in Vidalia, a riverfront hotel and two medical centers with a total of about 150 employees notified the Louisiana Workforce Commission on Friday that they were shutting down because of likely flooding, the governor’s office said. They are Comfort Suites, Riverpark Medical Center and Promise Medical Center.

Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell said the Mississippi River levees would close Sunday evening to all vehicle traffic, under an order from the state’s 5th District Levee Board. “This includes owners of camps, commercial fishermen, everyone,” he said.

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