Louisianans flee from floodwater released by the opening of the Morganza Spillway yesterday
Deputies warned people Sunday to get out as Mississippi River water gushing from a floodgate for the first time in four decades crept ever closer to communities in Louisiana Cajun country, slowly filling a river basin like a giant bathtub.
Most residents heeded the warnings and headed for higher ground, even in places where there hasn’t been so much as a trickle, hopeful that the flooding engineered to protect New Orleans and Baton Rouge would be merciful to their way of life.
Days ago, many of the towns known for their Cajun culture and drawling dialect fluttered with activity as people filled sandbags and cleared out belongings. By Sunday, some areas were virtually empty as the water from the Mississippi River, swollen by snowmelt and heavy rains, slowly rolled across the Atchafalaya River basin. The floodwaters could reach depths of 20 feet in the coming weeks.
The spillway’s opening diverted water from heavily populated New Orleans and Baton Rouge — along with chemical plants and oil refineries along the Mississippi’s lower reaches — easing pressure on the levees there in the hope of avoiding potentially catastrophic floods.
About 11 miles north of Krotz Springs in the town of Melville, water was already starting to creep into some people’s backyards. Parts of the town not protected by levees were under a mandatory evacuation order. Glenda Maddox’s husband had temporarily reopened the gas station he closed in December so people could fuel up before they leave.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” she said. “We don’t know if the levee is going to hold up.”
The station’s shelves were mostly barren, save for a few soft drinks and bottles of motor oil. Only cash was accepted 7/8 7/8– no credit cards.
In Butte LaRose, some 50 miles downstream from where the Morganza spillway was opened, no water was expected until at least later Sunday. But Chalmers Wheat, 54, was among the few left — and even he was headed for his father’s home in Baton Rouge outside the flood zone. He and his brother were making a few final preparations to protect his home with plastic lining and sandbags.
“It’s almost like a ghost town,” said Wheat, who was getting some help from his twin brother, Chandler.
Sandbags were still available in the center of town, but there were few takers Sunday.
Krotz Springs is roughly 30 miles closer to the floodgates, and deputies ordered people to evacuate Sunday morning even though the water hadn’t yet arrived.
Wayne Duplechain, who lives in the parish about eight miles outside Krotz Springs, said he would have his family stay in a camper parked on his son’s property outside the flood zone. He hoped to return, though, and ride out the flooding. He has three layers of sandbags stacked 2 feet high surrounding his ranch-style, brick house and figures the water won’t start lapping against them for seven or eight days. Plus, he has a generator and a boat to escape in if the water gets too high.
“It’s going to be slow-rising, so I’ll get out if I have to. I’m not totally stupid,” he said. “If it comes over the sandbags, I’m leaving.”
It will be at least a week before the Mississippi River crest arrives at the Morganza spillway, where officials opened two massive gates on Saturday and another two Sunday. There are 125 in all. The Mississippi has broken river-level records that had held since the 1920s in some places.
The Army Corps of Engineers has taken drastic steps to prevent flooding. Engineers blew up a levee in Missouri — inundating an estimated 200 square miles of farmland and damaging or destroying about 100 homes — to take the pressure off floodwalls protecting the town of Cairo, Ill., population 2,800.
The Morganza flooding is more controlled, however, and residents are warned each year that the spillway could be opened. A spillway at the 7,000-foot Bonnet Carre structure in Louisiana also has been opened.
Just outside Krotz Springs, 23-year-old Jake Nolan said National Guard troops knocked on the door of his home in a subdivision to tell his mother of the evacuation order. He said they advised her to have white towels and have access to the roof if they planned to ride it out — presumably in case of a rescue — though that didn’t appear to be part of any official instructions. And besides, he didn’t need an order to leave with his wife and three children.
“I don’t want to be stuck here if the water does get bad,” said Nolan, who planned to stay with a sister in Port Barre.
It seemed animals didn’t want to be stuck anywhere, either: Deer, hogs and rabbits have started running from the water flowing near the floodgates, said Lt. Col. Joey Broussard of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. An electronic sign on Interstate 10 warned of a possible animal exodus: “Wildlife crossing possible. Use caution,” it read.
Despite the mandatory evacuation order for some people, Krotz Springs town clerk Suzanne Bellau said it was unlikely the sheriff’s office would force people to leave. For most, the worst part was wondering what may happen. National Guardsman were building a new levee to bolster protection for the town, in addition to a levee already standing.
“It’s the unknown, that’s the problem,” Bellau said. “Is it going to come into their homes or not? And the people who are leaving, what are they coming back to?”
That was also true downstream in Butte LaRose, where Chalmers and Chandler Wheat had been making last-minute preparations. Chalmers Wheat figured his house would be all right so long as the water level didn’t exceed 2 feet.
“If the water gets higher, we’re pretty much …” Chalmers Wheat said, before his brother chimed in: “Screwed.”
Associated Press writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans and AP Video Journalist Robert Ray in Krotz Springs contributed to this report.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11