Louisiana, Mississippi Governors Urge People to Ready for River Flood

Residents of Louisiana and Mississippi should be ready for flooding along tributaries, bayous and spillways as the swollen Mississippi River pushes record amounts of water south to the Gulf of Mexico, the states’ governors said.

While Louisiana monitors the river’s volume to decide if it must take pressure off the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Mississippi is watching water rise in the historic Delta region, considered the birthplace of the blues.

“There’s no reason for anybody to lose their life in this,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said yesterday at a press conference in Greenville. “We’ve had days and days of warning and the crest isn’t even here yet.”

The river in Memphis crested at 47.87 feet (14.5 meters) May 10, just below the 1937 record of 48.7 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The bulge of water caused by the convergence of the swollen Mississippi and Ohio rivers at Cairo, Illinois, is moving slowly downstream toward New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, which it will reach in about two weeks.

Communities south of Memphis are inspecting levees and packing sandbags as they watch the floodwaters roll south toward oil refineries and fragile marshland.

North Louisiana Flooding

As many as 3,900 people may be affected by flooding in northern Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal said at a press conference yesterday in Baton Rouge.

In the southern part of the state, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may open the Morganza spillway, sending water down the Atchafalaya River basin for the first time since 1973.

The Atchafalaya, which normally receives 30 percent of the water coming down the Mississippi, has already started to rise even without the Morganza being opened.

In Melville, Louisiana, about 41 miles (66 kilometers) northwest of Baton Rouge, residents seeking a glimpse of the rising water kept coming as dark fell to the Atchafalaya’s bank under a seven-span lift bridge that carries Union Pacific Corp. trains.

“It looks like it is coming to get us,” said Gerry Krasgrow, who grew up in town. “It’s like a monster coming down the river.”

Pondering Evacuation

Krasgrow and neighbor Darrell Porche said they wouldn’t leave Melville, even though both thought the river would rise high enough to push on the earth levee that protects it. Porche said the levee broke during the 1927 flood.

If the town does flood, “I’ll take my important papers and leave,” Porche said. “I’d have a couple of cats to board.”

In a worst-case scenario, if the spillway isn’t opened, New Orleans may be threatened by flood waters and levee breaks that would cause greater damage than Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported, citing a corps map it obtained.

Ryan Heck, a sales representative for Hertz Service Pump and Compressor in Baton Rouge, said he’s worried that once the corps opens the Morganza, the agency won’t be able to close it again. That would let the river change its course and bypass New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

“This could be the biggest train wreck in the history of Louisiana but it’s also the slowest train wreck in the history of Louisiana,” Heck said today.

Inside the Spillway

About 2,500 people inside the floodway may be affected by the opening of the Morganza, while backed-up tributaries cause smaller rivers and bayous to flood, affecting as many as 22,500 others, Jindal said.

Residents in the spillway should assume the Morganza will be opened and act accordingly, he said yesterday. The decision will be made when the river flow at Louisiana’s Red River Landing reaches 1.5 million cubic feet per second, according to the Army Corps.

The flow as of today was 1.45 million cubic feet per second, according to the weather service.

“You hate to pass the buck on to someone else,” said Fred Taylor, who owns Poor Boy Lloyd’s Seafood Restaurant near the river in Baton Rouge, the state capital.

An earthen levee, reinforced by concrete in front of the downtown area, protects Baton Rouge from the Mississippi.

Taylor said he couldn’t remember seeing the river so high in his 63 years.

Baton Rouge Levels

At 9 a.m. local time today, the river was at 43.5 feet at Baton Rouge, heading for a crest of 47.5 feet on May 22, according to the weather service. That would be above the 1927 record of 47.3 feet.

The Bonnet Carre spillway west of New Orleans was already opened May 9 so excess river water could pour north into Lake Pontchartrain.

In Mississippi, officials are most concerned about tributary flooding in the fertile Delta region in the northwestern corner of the state, Barbour said. A possible breach of a levee that was built to relieve flooding on the Yazoo River would affect thousands of people in Cary, Hollandale and other towns south of Greenville, he said.

At Vicksburg, Mississippi, due west of Jackson, the river is expected to crest at 57.5 feet on May 19, about 1.5 feet above the 1927 record, according to the Corps of Engineers.

Two of the area’s four casinos, which employ about 2,000 people in all, are shuttered, and about 1,200 of Vicksburg’s 4,000 manufacturing jobs are idled, said Wayne Mansfield, executive director of the Warren County Port Commission.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Baton Rouge at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net; David Mildenberg in Vicksburg at dmildenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net.

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