St. Landry Parish Orders Mandatory Evacuations

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Over the weekend, the Army Corps of Engineers began opening gates of the Morganza Spillway — a structure that hadn't been opened in nearly 40 years. After the spillway was opened in Louisiana, mandatory evacuations were ordered for areas of St. Landry Parish.


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The fight against the great Mississippi flood is in its final round this morning in Louisiana. Over the weekend, the Army Corps of Engineers began opening gates of the massive Morganza Spillway. Those gates had not been opened in nearly 40 years. The spillway diverts water from the Mississippi and reduces stress on levees protecting Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, it sends the water to other rivers, bayous and wetlands, forcing thousands to flee.

(Soundbite of tractor engine)

GREG ALLEN: At Alan Snyder's house, south of the town of Krotz Springs, there's a lot going on. A trailer with a crane is loading a self-storage unit he's rented, filled with just about all of his and his wife's worldly possessions.

Mr. ALAN SNYDER: This is the second one. I've got just about everything - all my furniture, all my valuables and stuff. You know, just let them take it and store it. So...

ALLEN: And he has a trailer out back, filled with tools, lawnmowers and a golf cart. Moving the accumulated possessions of 20 years is a lot of trouble, and Snyder says he's not sure it's necessary. He recalls the last time the Morganza Floodway was opened in 1973, and says this area, where he built his home, never flooded.

Mr. SNYDER: I'm not real scared, you know, like I say, but, you know, to protect me and my wife - I got a wife now, you know. I wouldn't do nothing to jeopardize the levee breaking or something. If the levee breaks, then we're in a hurt.

ALLEN: Yesterday, officials in St. Landry Parish ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents in the area where Snyder lives. He, like many I spoke with, wasn't happy about it. He said he'd been working since Wednesday, but still had much more to get out of his house.

Mr. SNYDER: I just think they jumped the gun on it. I don't know if they're trying to hurry people up or what, you know, but like I say, we need a little bit more time.

Ms. LISA VIDRINE (Director, St. Landry Parish's Department of Emergency Preparedness): Everyone's had a week-and-a-half, really, to get their house in order, so to speak, to prepare for this particular point where we area today.

ALLEN: Lisa Vidrine is the director of St. Landry Parish's Department of Emergency Preparedness. She says parish officials based the evacuation order on Army Corps of Engineers maps. They indicate the area around Krotz Springs would be among the first to see rising water levels.

Ms. VIDRINE: Well, the water that we are expecting to see is backwater, water that's coming down the basin area, and that's going to come around the levee system that stops south of St. Landry Parish. And that's going to spread out into the basin, and then start backing up to St. Landry.

ALLEN: To help prevent backflooding in Krotz Springs, the National Guard is working with Parish and state officials to build an emergency levee. Backloaders are filling wire HESCO baskets with soil and recycled asphalt to hold back the water.

Sergeant Lloyd Martin is with the Louisiana National Guard.

Sgt. LLOYD MARTIN (Louisiana National Guard): We're probably, if I had to guess, 60 percent completed on our section. The top grade on the entire project will be at a level of 28 foot, six inches.

ALLEN: That's the height above sea level, tall enough to protect nearly 250 homes and a nearby refinery. It's all part of a massive flood control fight involving thousands of federal, state and parish officials in Louisiana.

Spearheading the fight is Army Corps of Engineers General Michael Walsh. Standing at the Morganza Floodway over the weekend, he noted that the battle in Louisiana is just getting started. The river here is still rising, and isn't expected to crest until later in the week.

General MICHAEL WALSH (Army Corps of Engineers): So this is certainly going to be a marathon and not a sprint as we go through this tremendous amount, huge amount of water as it comes down.

ALLEN: Those who live in the Atchafalaya Basin who have to evacuate may be away from their homes for some time. Corps officials say the Morganza Floodway is likely to remain open for at least three weeks.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Baton Rouge.

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