SCOTT SIMON, host:

And the flooding in Louisiana's also affecting the oil and gas industry. State regulators say there are about 600 active oil and gas wells in the area below the Morganza spillway. There's also one refinery.

As crews keep the spillway open to relieve pressure on the Mississippi River, the communities downstream are waiting for the flood.

NPR's Jeff Brady traveled to a small town near Baton Rouge to see preparations.

JEFF BRADY: I'm standing outside the ALON USA refinery near Krotz Springs, Louisiana, and we're on the south side of the facility. There is a temporary levee that's been constructed. It looks to be about 12 to 15-feet high in spots. And officials here hope that that will protect the refinery from the floodwaters when they arrive.

(Soundbite of traffic)

Lieutenant Colonel DANIEL BORDELON (Louisiana National Guard): Well, the refinery's a key piece of infrastructure around here.

BRADY: Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Bordelon commands the Louisiana National Guard task force that's preparing Krotz Springs for floodwaters.

Lt. Col. BORDELON: A lot of the people here work at the refinery, so they would have lost their jobs if the refinery went down.

BRADY: Now the National Guard is patrolling Krotz Springs in sand-colored military trucks. But a few days back, soldiers were building two miles of temporary levees. The goal: to protect a neighborhood and the south side of the refinery.

Lt. Col. BORDELON: We ended up using about 60,000 cubic yards of material.

BRADY: And what is that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Lt. Col. BORDELON: That's a lot of material.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Lt. Col. BORDELON: So, enough to build - I mean, if you stack dirt 12 to 15 feet wide and eight-foot tall over two miles, that's approximately what we did.

BRADY: While that may keep the refinery running, there are concerns for the environment. Activists worry floodwater flowing through Atchafalaya Basin will collect toxic chemicals from the many oil and gas production sites there.

Anna Hrybyk is with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

Ms. ANNA HRYBYK (Louisiana Bucket Brigade): The Gulf is still reeling from the BP oil spill last year. So, you know, I think it's sad for all of us to see that there's potentially going to be more contaminants in the Gulf as a result.

BRADY: The state says oil companies are preparing their facilities much like they would for a hurricane, and operators must install automatic cutoffs for wells that might become inaccessible during a flood.

Back in Krotz Springs, many of the 1,200 residents left town earlier, assuming flooding was imminent. But when the water didn't come right away, people started trickling back.

Town Clerk Suzanne Belleau says the community is prepared, but also on edge.

Ms. SUZANNE BELLEAU (Town Clerk, Krotz Springs, Louisiana) Because they said it was going to be really fast, and now that people are seeing that it's just going to be a slow, crawly thing instead of what they predicted earlier. And so they kind of just don't know what to believe.

BRADY: Just north of town, Darlene Walker came back and found water bubbling up from the ground in her side yard.

Ms. DARLENE WALKER: See, the water's coming out, and you cannot stop them.

BRADY: Walker lives a quarter mile from the levees that keep the Atchafalaya River within its banks. But all that extra water flowing by has raised the groundwater levels here. The problem is even more noticeable behind Walker's house, in the shed where here water well is located.

(Soundbite of running water)

BRADY: Water is flowing out of the well and across her lawn. With a puppy nearby begging for attention, Walker says the last week has been rough for her family.

Ms. WALKER: You know, going back home. You know, we come back home - we left, but we come back home, but we're still living out of our suitcases. We just living on - because my husband had three strokes, and I got my son-in-law in a wheelchair next door. So we just hoping, you know, it don't come as bad as they say it is.

BRADY: In the 1973 flood, Walker says her property had five feet of water on it. Officials say they expect water will start flowing into Krotz Springs on Monday.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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