As floodwaters began to recede Tuesday in the Amite River Basin and waterways farther east, officials in Livingston Parish said at least 379 homes were flooded across low-lying swaths on the eastern and western fringes of that parish, with the number likely to rise as more reports arrive.
But the Amite, swollen like other Florida Parishes waterways by a storm front last week that wreaked havoc across the state, did not hit near-record highs once feared and flooding appears to have been less than it could have been in Livingston and Ascension parishes, officials said.
An Ascension Parish government spokesman declined Tuesday even to characterize the general magnitude of any house flooding in the parish while damage assessments are underway. But signs of a major inundation of homes were not apparent Monday and Tuesday as the Amite rose and fell.
Some Ascension Parish Council members said their districts had no or scattered reports of house flooding on the parish’s low-lying eastern edge on the Amite and in the Astroland neighborhood of Darrow.
Councilman Aaron Lawler, who represents the Prairieville-area District 7 in Ascension’s populous north along Bayou Manchac and Muddy Creek, said he drove around his district Thursday and again Tuesday. While some streets are flooded and closed, he said, he was unable to find any flooded homes.
“I think we actually got out of this pretty well,” he said of his district.
The Amite crested lower than expected at Port Vincent, for instance, reaching 11.2 feet Monday afternoon, about two feet lower than early estimates, the National Weather Service says. The crest was categorized as moderate flood.
The Tickfaw River came closer to matching predictions, cresting Saturday night at Holden at 20.23 feet, but still below the 21-foot record forecasters initially expected last week’s storm to tie.
Meanwhile, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ request to have Livingston, Tangipahoa and 14 other parishes pulled under a federal disaster declaration was granted Tuesday, and those areas are now eligible for emergency aid to residents and local governments.
“This expanded declaration will provide much needed resources for Louisiana families in serious need of assistance during such a challenging time,” Edwards said in a statement.
“My administration and officials across the state will continue to work together to help every citizen in need.”
The state congressional delegation issued a letter Monday supporting Edwards’ request for federal help. Forty-four parishes have state-of-emergency declarations. With Tuesday’s decision, 23 of them now also have federal declarations, including heavily hit St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
The initial federal declaration was granted Sunday for seven north Louisiana parishes.
Despite these lower-than-expected crests, Livingston Parish homeland security officials received reports of about 40 flooded homes each in Albany and Port Vincent, 70 in French Settlement and more than 225 in the Springfield area through Tuesday afternoon, said Brandi Janes, deputy director of emergency preparedness.
Fire districts covering the northeastern corner of the parish, which received heavy back-flooding from the Tickfaw and Blood rivers, had not yet reported their estimates as of Tuesday afternoon, Janes said.
Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry said four houses took on water during the flood in the city, but homes and businesses in the city and surrounding area emerged with minimal flooding. The Amite River crested early Sunday morning at 36.09 feet — three feet below early projections and well below the 41.5-foot record set during the catastrophic flood of 1983.
Many homes in the southern part of the parish, which are often built on stilts or have been raised after earlier floods, avoided damage this time because of their elevation. Most of the buildings that were flooded were on slabs at ground level, said Mark Harrell, Livingston’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Hours before Edwards’ announcement about the federal disaster declaration, Harrell predicted Livingston Parish should meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s criteria for both individual and public assistance.
“FEMA likes to see 25 structures destroyed or major (damage), and I think we’ll have that with no problem,” Harrell said. “And I don’t think we’ll have a problem with public assistance either, with all the man hours and sand and equipment used.”
In Ascension, which is not part of the latest federal declaration, parish officials attributed the lack of significant house flooding not only to the lower-than-expected crest on the Amite River but also to strong warnings from the National Weather Service on Friday and to a new multi-million-dollar floodgate in the Galvez area.
The $21 million Henderson Bayou Floodgate, which includes gates and connected levee, works like a dam in times of high water to block backwater from the nearby Amite River from flowing upstream into Henderson Bayou and flooding homes in the Galvez area.
Councilman Chairman Randy Clouatre, a former head of the East Ascension drainage board, said the system worked as planned.
“Some of those folks would have been flooded,” he said.
The floodgate was finished in late 2014 after years of debate about its efficacy and the unintended flooding impacts some believed it might cause on areas outside its protection zone.
Clouatre said the early warnings about the Amite from the National Weather Service, though they were later lowered, prompted many residents in vulnerable areas in his district to sandbag over the weekend before the water arrived. Those included the Lake Martin and White Cypress Swamp areas and along the north side of Gold Place Road in the eastern and southeastern parts of the parish.
The warning also allowed the parish’s drainage pumps to get ahead of the coming high water.
The effect was that not many homes were flooded in his district that he was aware of, he said, though he suspected there may have been some in the Lake Martin area.
In Ascension’s south, near Darrow, the Astroland neighborhood, which has been waiting for a fix to long-standing flooding problems, saw more house flooding late last week.
Unlike other parts of Ascension, this area is not protected by pumps or gates, and relies instead on natural drainage. Parish officials have proposed building a ring levee with pumps to protect the community off La. 22 west of Burnside.
Parish drainage officials announced in a regular meeting days before the storm front hit that they had reached a key land agreement to build that system after about a year of negotiations.
Councilman Travis Turner said some estimates are that eight to nine house flooded. He said he, Parish President Kenny Matassa and East Drainage Director Bill Roux met with Astroland residents Monday.
Turner said his constituents are tired of the flooding but a land agreement is in place and work should start when land dries out.
While Ascension school officials said attendance was normal through most of the district, Livingston School Superintendent John Watson said student attendance Tuesday in the hardest-hit areas of Livingston ranged from a low of 50 percent at Maurepas to about 90 percent in Holden.
“We expect over the next few days, there will still be some situations with students having to miss, but overall, it’s been a good day,” Watson said Tuesday.
Reporter Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this story.