Although the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge reached its crest Wednesday, people in Butte La Rose faced a mandatory evacuation order with the Atchafalaya River expected to begin Thursday rising a foot a day, according to the National Weather Service.
The Atchafalaya River at Butte La Rose has risen only about 1 foot since Saturday’s opening of the Morganza Spillway.
But each day the U.S. Corps of Engineers has opened more gates on the spillway — with 16 gates opened on Wednesday — diverting Mississippi River flood water into the Atchafalaya Basin — and into the Atchafalaya River.
By Thursday, that water is expected to cause the swollen Atchafalaya River in Butte La Rose to begin rising 1 foot per day, said Jonathan Brazzell, a service hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Lake Charles.
Levels are expected to crest Tuesday at an estimated 27 feet, just short of the area’s 1973 record, which was 27.3 feet.
“It wouldn’t shock me if it hit (the record),” Brazzell said.
From Butte La Rose, the water is expected to begin flowing north into St. Landry Parish, and south into Morgan City.
The forecast calls for the Atchafalaya to crest near 11 feet at Morgan City on Wednesday. That would put the river above the record crest of 10.5 feet in 1973.
Gina Tillis, a senior hydrologist at the NWS, said that once the Atchafalaya crests, the river is expected to remain at record heights for several days — a week or more in Butte La Rose — before beginning a slow fall.
“I wish we could get it out of there sooner, but it is a lot of water,” Tillis said.
The St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office issued the evacuation order Wednesday for residents of Butte La Rose, Happytown and Sherburne.
The order calls for residents to be out by 8 a.m. Saturday, the Sheriff’s Office announced.
After that time, no one will be allowed to enter the area, the office said.
A shelter for evacuees is scheduled to open at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Breaux Bridge High School gymnasium.
Most area residents have already heeded the warnings, leaving behind empty streets, homes, camps and in some cases empty lots.
City not out of danger
The Mississippi River, which crested in Baton Rouge at 44.8 feet, is expected to stay at that level for at least a week, said Scott Lincoln, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.
With the levees in the Capital City ranging from 47 feet to 51 feet high, overtopping is out of the equation, said Jim Ferguson, chief engineer with the city-parish engineering division.
But the city isn’t out of danger yet, Ferguson said, as high water conditions are expected to persist through mid-June or longer, putting a strain on the area’s levee system.
“We have no reason to think the levees will fail, but they’ve never been tested like they are now. We’re inspecting them three times a day,” Ferguson said.
In addition to the levees, city-parish workers are monitoring several other areas, he said, including the Brightside Lane area, which sits about 20 feet below the nearby river.
Joints in the road in that area are leaking water as the pressure from the river pushes down on groundwater, Ferguson said.
Ferguson said the water “sweating” out from the streets on Brightside Lane, the River Bend area and on parts of LSU’s campus are likely to grow algae and give off a foul smell in the coming weeks.
“It’s a nuisance, but it’s expected,” he said.
Meanwhile the state has closed some traffic lanes on River Road at North Street as they pump out water seeping out of the drainage system, said Jodi Conachen, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The state also built a sand barrier near the base of the U.S. 190 bridge in order to keep the bridge open to traffic and to protect a nearby pumping station, Conachen said.
Ricky Boyett, a corps spokesman said the Morganza Spillway will remain open to limit the amount of water flowing past Baton Rouge to 1.5 million cubic feet per second.
Once the natural flow of the river drops below that threshold, the corps will make adjustments at the spillway, culminating in its eventual closure, he said.
Some refuse to evacuate
O.B. Magnon has heard about the mandatory evacuation for his Atchafalaya Basin community and he’s seen reports about the flood predictions, but the Butte La Rose retiree said he does not plan to go anywhere until he sees the water with his own eyes.
Magnon is one of about three holdouts who plan to stick it out in a place he calls “God’s Heaven” despite the evacuation order that goes into effect Saturday. He lives on Herman Dupuis Road, across the road from the Butte La Rose canal.
“When the water gets to the road, I’ll get out,” Magnon said.
While Magnon stood on his neighbor’s dock with a fishing rod in hand and a line in the water, he said Wednesday he doesn’t believe the predictions. He said he has been watching the water closely and it doesn’t appear to be moving fast enough to meet predictions.
Magnon said, however, he did not take any chances with his possessions. He’s cleared out his house, leaving himself only a TV, microwave and a recliner.
Meanwhile, he’ll continue to fish.
“That’s all I do,” he said. “That’s my breakfast, dinner and supper.”
In Atchafalaya Acres, a subdivision in Butte La Rose, Bruce Lye was making a final inspection of his lot on Vermilion Street. A small shed sat on an empty lot next to a wooden ramp that led to nothing.
He says he was fortunate enough to be able to move his mobile home out of harm’s way to a place in Henderson.
“I feel bad for my neighbors who can’t,” he said.
He says he does not know whether he will return when the water recedes. He says it all depends on how they are treated and whether residents will qualify for assistance.
Lye says he is already out about $3,000 for the cost of moving the mobile home. He says many residents feel like they “are getting the short end of the stick.”
“It’s hard on everybody here,” Lye said.
Lye’s neighbor, David Derbonne, had returned to pick up the final load from his home Wednesday. He is staying with his mother in St. Francisville.
Derbonne says he opted not to purchase flood insurance because he had been told that the area is in the highest spot in Butte La Rose, and that the area had not flooded in 50 years. He said he plans to buy flood insurance when he returns.
He says there is little doubt that he will return. He moved 10 months ago from Baton Rouge.
“It’s really like no other place,” he said.
Elsewhere, the state Department of Transportation and Development is installing 2 miles of flood barriers in low-lying locations along La. 70, north of Stephensville, in an effort to keep the roadway open, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness.
In St. Landry Parish, the state DOTD has hauled about 29,000 cubic yards of materials over the past weeks in support of flood-protection efforts in Krotz Springs, the release said.
Efforts also continue in St. Mary Parish, where officials have worked to dam canals and shore up existing levee systems to prevent backwater flooding in areas from Franklin to Amelia, St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin said.
Richard Burgess contributed to this story.