Louisiana Spillway To Open, Flooding Cajun Country….

Here it comes……. LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. – In an agonizing trade-off, Army engineers said they will open a key spillway along the bulging Mississippi River as early as Saturday and inundate thousands of homes and farms in parts of Louisiana’s Cajun country to avert a potentially bigger disaster in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. About 25,000 people and 11,000 structures could be in harm’s way when the gates on the Morganza spillway are unlocked for the first time in 38 years. “Protecting lives is the No. 1 priority,” Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh said aboard a boat from the river at Vicksburg, Miss., hours before the decision was made to open the spillway.

The opening will release a torrent that could submerge about 3,000 square miles under as much as 25 feet of water in some areas but take the pressure off the downstream levees protecting New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi.

Engineers feared that weeks of pressure on the levees could cause them to fail, swamping New Orleans under as much as 20 feet of water in a disaster that would have been much worse than Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Instead, the water will flow 20 miles south into the Atchafalaya Basin. From there it will roll on to Morgan City, an oil-and-seafood hub and a community of 12,000, and then eventually into the Gulf of Mexico, flooding swamps and croplands.

The corps said it will open the gates when the river’s flow rate reaches 1.5 million cubic feet per second and is predicted to keep rising, which is expected sometime Saturday. Just north of the spillway at Red River Landing, the river had reached that flow rate, according to the National Weather Service.

Some people living in the threatened stretch of countryside — an area known for small farms, fish camps and a drawling French dialect — have already started fleeing for higher ground.

Sheriffs and National Guardsmen will warn people in a door-to-door sweep through the area, Gov. Bobby Jindal said. Shelters are ready to accept up to 4,800 evacuees, the governor said.

“Now’s the time to evacuate,” Jindal said. “Now’s the time for our people to execute their plans. That water’s coming.”

The Army Corps of Engineers employed a similar cities-first strategy earlier this month when it 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 the levees protecting the town of Cairo, Ill., population 2,800.

This intentional flood is more controlled, however, and residents are warned by the corps each year in written letters, reminding them of the possibility of opening the spillway.

Meanwhile, with crop prices soaring, farmers along the lower Mississippi had been expecting a big year. But now many are facing ruin, with floodwaters swallowing up corn, cotton, rice and soybean fields.

In far northeastern Louisiana, where Tap Parker and about 50 other farmers filled and stacked massive sandbags along an old levee to no avail. The Mississippi flowed over the top Thursday, and nearly 19 square miles of soybeans and corn, known in the industry as “green gold,” was lost.

“This was supposed to be our good year. We had a chance to really catch up. Now we’re scrambling to break even,” said Parker, who has been farming since 1985.

Cotton prices are up 86 percent from a year ago, and corn — which is feed for livestock, a major ingredient in cereals and soft drinks, and the raw material used to produce ethanol — is up 80 percent. Soybeans have risen 39 percent. The increase is attributed, in part, to worldwide demand, crop-damaging weather elsewhere and rising production of ethanol.

While the Mississippi River flooding has not had any immediate impact on prices in the supermarket, the long-term effects are still unknown. A full damage assessment can’t be made until the water has receded in many places.

Some of the estimates have been dire, though.

More than 1,500 square miles of farmland in Arkansas, which produces about half of the nation’s rice, have been swamped over the past few weeks. In Missouri, where a levee was intentionally blown open to ease the flood threat in the town of Cairo, Ill., more than 200 square miles of croplands were submerged, damage that will probably exceed $100 million. More than 2,100 square miles could flood in Mississippi.

When the water level goes down — and that could take many weeks in some places — farmers can expect to find the soil washed away or their fields covered with sand. Some will probably replant on the soggy soil, but they will be behind their normal growing schedule, which could hurt yields.

Many farmers have crop insurance, but it won’t be enough to cover their losses. And it won’t even come close to what they could have expected with a bumper crop.

“I might get enough money from insurance to take us to a movie, but it better be dollar night,” said Karsten Simrall, who lives in Redwood, Miss.

Simrall’s family has farmed the low-lying fields in Redwood for five generations and has been fighting floods for years, but it’s never been this bad. And the river is not expected to crest here until around Tuesday.

“How the hell do you recoup all these losses?” he said. “You just wait. It’s in God’s hands.”

The river’s rise may also force the closing of the river to shipping, from Baton Rouge to the mouth of the Mississippi, as early as next week. That would cause grain barges from the heartland to stack up along with other commodities.

If the portion is closed, the U.S. economy could lose hundreds of millions of dollars a day. In 2008, a 100-mile stretch of the river was closed for six days after a tugboat collided with a tanker, spilling about 500,000 gallons of fuel. The Port of New Orleans estimated the shutdown cost the economy up to $275 million a day.  (read more)

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20 Responses to Louisiana Spillway To Open, Flooding Cajun Country….

  1. tnwahm says:

    I’m not sure what I think about opening up the spillways; but I can tell you from personal experience that the amount of water is unbelievable.

    Like

    • stellap says:

      My cousin flew over the flooded areas last week on his way to Texas. He said the expanse of water is unimaginable.

      Like

    • GracieD says:

      Actually, there is already a good deal of seepage, and in a matter of 2-3 days the Morganza Spillway would be overtopped if it were not opened. If you would like to see what is going on down here, WAFB.com WBRZ.com are Baton Rouge Stations that have excellent coverage. This morning, they said that the Spillway would open at about 3:00pm.

      Like

  2. WaltzingMtilda says:

    Thoughts and prayers to our Treepers affected by this…

    Like

  3. GracieD says:

    We are not affected by the water, but have many friends, coworkers, and relatives who live in Pierre Part, Morganza, Morgan City, Houma, etc. We may have company for a few weeks. Not sure yet, but in situations like this, sometimes family/friends show up on your doorstep in the middle of the night. Hubby and I went to the river and took some pictures on both sides of the levee. Will send them when I get back to the house. It is shocking to see the river where it has never been in my lifetime.

    Like

  4. Otis P. Driftwood says:

    Years ago I read a book (can’t recall the name) of the 1927 Mississippi River flood. The same thing happened then – officials and other folks of New Orleans took guns with them, basically trespassed on other town’s properties, and released the water. New Orleans was spared and the small towns flooded. Bullying at its best. obama would approve.

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    • GracieD says:

      Actually, now some mortgage papers in the Atchafalaya Basin properties warn buyers that there is a chance that they could experience catastrophic damage in the event that the Morganza Spillway is opened up to ease pressure on the levees of the Mississippi River. A friend who bought a home in Pierre Part told me that the disclaimer was in her Mortgage Papers. They have Flood Insurance, but, many in the Basin do not. Prayers for those who do not have Flood Insurance.

      Like

    • YTZ4Me says:

      Unbelievable. The bullying has gotten to unimaginable heights, indeed. I fear we are no longer a Republic where all are equal, but truly have made the transition to Empire ruled by an oligarchy and operating on a system of patronage and favoritism. The only thing left for them to do to complete the transition is to debase the currency, and not enforce the borders, diluting the value of the meaning of “citizenship”.

      Oh, wait.

      Sarcasm aside, Gracie, your friends and family are in our prayers. We have a few friends in the New Orleans area living around Lake Pontchatrain. Between the floods and the fires in Texas, the South sure isn’t getting any breaks.

      Stay safe, and keep us posted. Let us know what is the best way to help.

      Like

  5. GracieD says:

    I feel the same way, Yatz. Many in the Basin live on Houseboats for just this reason. I have a couple of relatives who say this is the price you pay to live in “Paradise”. They seem to be somewhat philosophical about it, reasoning that they would get a whole lot more water if the Spillway were not there. Prayers will be much appreciated. We’re OK, the worst that we will have to deal with is company for an extended period of time, which, for me, is fun.

    Like

  6. Sharon says:

    I couldn’t get the link to work right. But at WashingtonPost.com there’s a slide show with over 100 photos taken as late as yesterday and back to May 1, illustrating the progress of the flood from Indiana down to the Gulf. (most recent photos first)…. lots of town names, etc. included that will be meaningful to folks who know the area.

    Like

  7. Random question for anyone to jump in on…… Do you think the effectivness of the Northern Mississippi tributary communities to control flooding and stop the rivers from swamping their towns (like Sharon described in Fargo), is contributing to more water down south?

    Does the flood effective flood protection in the Northern Mississippi, make the water shed higher in the Southern Mississippi?

    Like

    • GracieD says:

      SD, IMO the flood control efforts up north on tributaries, should have little impact on what the Mississippi does down here. The big muddy has countless tributaries from start to finish. The water is going to go where it will. I think you will see something different from what you saw during Katrina. Cajuns are very independent, and still have the stigma of shame associated with government help. At least that is how it is among the Cajuns that I know. They will begin helping each other as soon as the water goes down.

      Like

      • GracieD says:

        The above is just my opinion, I have no scientific evidence to back up my theory. 😀

        P.S. SD, check your email for pics of the Big Muddy taken yesterday.

        Like

    • Sharon says:

      A footnote on the Fargo flooding: the Red River of the North (which is the major issue in Fargo flooding) is a north-flowing river, and takes all the tributaries north as well. Winnipeg is affected by the Red River’s flooding some time after it gets done with the Red River Valley (which is basically the ND/MN state line).

      It looks like basically all of ND is included (on one of the maps above) in the Mississippi drainage system. I don’t think that’s accurate. The eastern 1/3 (apx) all goes north with the Red River.

      The Missouri River (which works its way from NW to S across ND) is a southflowing river and it is ultimately part of that southward drainage.

      Like

  8. Gypsy says:

    I haven’t the expertise to answer that one!

    Like

  9. WeeWeed says:

    I fly that direction tomorrow – perhaps I’ll see both what’s burnt up in Tejas, and some of the water there in LA. Plus report on my stripsearch, or not. Another report (for I won’t have the time nor the wherewithall – could be on AA fares versus Southwest – COULD IT BE……unions that jack up American’s prices??? hmmmm…)

    Like

  10. GracieD says:

    This is a link to some interesting stories on the Mississippi River Flooding. The ones to watch are Second Floodgate…and Loose Barges…loose barges can be a huge threat, a barge can cut a huge gash in the levees causing catastrophic flooding.

    http://www.wafb.com/category/210287/river-watch?redirected=true

    Like

  11. GracieD says:

    Here is a video about Morganza…
    http://www.wbrz.com/player/?video_id=7129&zone=58&categories=58

    Here is a PDF showing when the water will reach various places..
    http://www.wbrz.com/files/MorganzaSpillwaytimeline.pdf

    Like

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