The Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers flooded thousands of acres of crops and hundreds of camps in the Atchafalaya Basin, but communities that had been pilling sandbags and building levees to keep out record high water are breathing a sigh of relief.
Both rivers are still at near-record levels, and backwater is expected to continue creeping up in some areas of the basin for the next week, but most residential areas have been spared.
Floodwaters reached more than 900 camps in a six-parish area in and around the basin, but only 57 homes took on water, mostly in areas outside of protection levees, according to preliminary estimates from parish officials and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Mandatory evacuations called for communities in St. Landry and St. Martin parishes were all lifted as of Wednesday.
Some of the evacuation orders were rescinded as early as last week when it seemed the water was not going to climb as high as predicted.
In Butte La Rose, the National Weather Service had initially forecast a record 29-foot crest for the Atchafalaya.
In the end, the crest passed through the weekend at about 23 feet, St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier said.
Had the crest risen to 29 feet, 95 percent of the camps and homes in Butte La Rose would have flooded, he said, adding he was frustrated the forecast center was off by several feet.
“When they said 29 feet, people hit their knees (to pray),” Cormier said. “With today’s technology, you think it could be more accurate.”
Cormier said the rise of backwater in the Butte La Rose area has slowed to less than an inch a day and is expected to level off by the weekend.
The crests for the Atchafalaya and Mississippi have passed through the state,
but the waterways will remain high for several weeks, not returning to normal levels until July or August, National Weather Service hydrologist Jeff Graschel said.
“It rises very slowly, and it comes down slowly,” he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to divert Mississippi River water into the Atchafalaya Basin through the Morganza Spillway.
The corps opened the spillway May 14.
As of Wednesday, nine gates remained open out of 17 opened during the peak of the high water.
The corps will keep the flood-control structure open as long as necessary to keep water flowing past the Red River Landing at 1.5 million cubic feet per second or lower.
The corps recorded water flow of 1.45 million cubic feet per second at Red River on Wednesday morning.
Corps engineer Ted Eilts, speaking during the Atchafalaya Basin Levee District Board meeting Wednesday, said the water level at Red River was 61.1 feet Wednesday, the first reading since May 14 that was below the record flood stage of 61.3 feet.
Corps officials said there is no definitive timetable for when the remaining spillway gates will be closed.
St. Mary Parish
While the water continues to work through the Atchafalaya system, the river level in Morgan City crested Monday at 10.3 feet, just below the record of 10.5 feet during the flood of 1973, according to the National Weather Service.
Graschel said the river at Morgan City will fall only about half a foot over the next week.
“The river is going down, and everything is going as planned, It’s just a wait-and-see now,” St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin said.
Morgan City and Berwick, which sit alongside the river, are protected by massive floodwalls, but there had been concerns about backwater flooding if the rising Atchafalaya began pushing up into area bayous and canals.
Some marine-focused businesses on the river side of the floodwalls took on water, as well as a handful of homes on the unprotected side of levees along the Wax Lake Outlet, but the parish has not seen significant flooding, Naquin said.
Pointe Coupee Parish
The news of a slow retreat of water is likely unsettling for property owners in southwest Pointe Coupee Parish where the state estimates more than 350 structures have been flooded.
Flooding has been largely confined to camps, officials said, with the exception of four homes near the Sherburne Wildlife Management Preserve.
Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Juge estimated the area has taken on 12 feet of diverted water.
Residents in northern Pointe Coupee Parish, in the Old River area are also waiting for the river to recede.
Most of the camps are elevated and are not expected to sustain significant damage, said Don Ewing, director of the Pointe Coupee Office of Emergency Preparedness.
When the last of the gates are closed, it will take between 35 and 40 days before the water recedes allowing residents access to their properties, Sheriff Beauregard “Bud” Torres said Wednesday.
Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Maj. Johnny Blanchard said about 200 camps have been flooded by diverted water from the spillway into the Bayou Sorrel and Bayou Pigeon areas, where the water is about 15 feet above the normal 3-foot elevations.
Parish officials suspect it could take until the end of the month or into early July before the water recedes, he said.
West Feliciana Parish
The state Homeland Security office Estimates 162 structures have taken on water.
Most of those also are camps with about a dozen homes included, said Tommy Boyett, director of the West Feliciana Office of Emergency Preparedness.
The backwater flooding has affected areas adjacent to the river in the southwest corner of the parish, he said.