Troubling waters coming

Tuesday, May 10
May 10, 2011
Thursday, May 12
May 12, 2011

Eyeing the Gulf of Mexico for incoming wind and water is the norm in south Louisiana. But waiting on water from the north … that’s a new one, even for this virtually lifetime Louisianan.

This week, residents of St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes find themselves in that position. Waters are free-flowing from the Mississippi River into the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which should ease concerns for the New Orleans area.

Unfortunately, with word that the Morganza Spillway, located just north of Baton Rouge, could be opened in the coming days, the likelihood that many of our neighbors in St. Mary and the western reaches of Terrebonne parishes will find their homes inundated with flood waters now appears imminent.

The Morganza was last opened in 1973, and state and federal officials warn flood levels could far surpass peaks reached that year. The Morganza’s backwaters will cause the Tri-parishes problems, especially for those living near basins and floodways.

For days, we’ve seen images of the muddy Mississippi lapping at windowsills and rooftops in Missouri and Tennessee. And the river has yet to crest in many of these areas, meaning it could be weeks before citizens can return and begin the chore of drying out.

Now, we brace for what’s to come. According to inundation estimates released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Friday, up to 5 feet of water reaching from western St. Mary across much of south Terrebonne and parts of Lafourche.

Morgan City residents could see up to 15 feet of water lapping at its floodwall.

Those numbers are guesstimates based on the Bonnet Carre flow being at 100 percent capacity and Morganza at 50 percent capacity. Levels could actually come in lower … but not likely, according to the corps.

In the scramble to protect lives and property, St. Mary and Terrebonne are taking every step necessary. Work is underway to sink a barge stretching from St. Mary’s Avoca Island into Terrebonne, which will hopefully slow floodwaters as they move into the area.

Also, sandbags are being made available across the Tri-parishes.

At the state level, Gov. Jindal received a partial disaster declaration from the Obama administration.

More warnings are to be expected in the coming days as this year’s flood rivals that last seen in 1927. Certainly, preparing for the worst is nothing new in south Louisiana. Now is the time to take precautions. And if, or when, you are warned to head toward higher ground, take heed. The Mississippi River is mighty and, as our friends to the north have learned firsthand, packs a wallop.