People living in northern Ascension Parish and southern Livingston Parish, the area to see the worst of river flooding brought on by powerful rain storms in the Baton Rouge area last week, used boats Monday to checked on loved ones and to make trips for supplies they’ll need until floodwaters subside.
Schools, which have been closed since the storms, are set to reopen Tuesday, although some residents were still waiting to see if floodwaters would hit them in the lowest reaches of the parishes.
Some owners of flood-ravaged property took on the grim task of picking through their belongings Monday. Those in the areas most susceptible to flooding continue to wait for permission to assess the damage done to their homes.
Daniel Lipscomb waded through the thigh-high water pulling a pirogue used to ferry his 2-year-old black Labrador, Jones, across the muddy waters surrounding his Livingston Parish home Monday. It was the dog’s first outing of the day.
“He don’t go after ducks, but he’s a good family dog,” Lipscomb said, patting the quivering dog as it frantically searched for a tire or hydrant.
Lipscomb said the water rose continually over the weekend, causing him to send his wife and two children to higher ground in nearby Springfield while he stayed behind to get their animals to safety.
“I spent last night getting the pigs out of the pen,” Lipscomb said, noting it took three hours to move the larger, 300-pound pig. “She wouldn’t come off the concrete, she’s so spoiled. I finally had to put her in the bucket of that John Deere and use it to take her over to the horse trailer.”
Parish Councilman Tab Lobell said his family had fought back the floodwaters at his mother-in-law’s home near La. 1037 for nearly 72 hours until about 3 a.m. Monday, when the sandbags finally gave way.
The home now has about a foot of water inside, Lobell said.
“There are really only two amounts of water when it comes to your house: some and none,” Lobell said. “And some is too much.”
The home had previously flooded in 1983, 1991 and again with Hurricane Isaac in 2012, he said.
“Sometimes it’s the wind that brings the water. Sometimes it’s the rain,” Lobell said. “Each time, it’s a little bit different.”
In Ascension Parish, flooding was concentrated north of La. 42 and east of La. 431 but largely contained to streets, gullies and sloughs known to flood and open land near Bayou Manchac and the Amite River.
While Bayou Manchac, which flows into the Amite north of La. 42, crested Monday morning and began to drain off, officials in both parishes were waiting for the 7 p.m. crest of the Amite farther south near Port Vincent. Despite the lessened impact in Ascension, a few homes and businesses did receive water, like Amite River eatery and bar, Fred’s on the River.
Brothers R. J. Landry Jr. and Rene’ Landry of Denham Springs stood in the sun by their truck and flatboat before noon Monday, they had just checked on their 83-year-old mother and their sister who live in a trailer up on stilts but surrounded by water.
Inside the trailer, the women still had electricity, food supplies and their cell phones. A car that their mother no longer drives sat with water up to its windows.
“They’re doing good. We just left them,” R. J. Landry said. “They don’t have TV, though, so she’s getting a little nervous” about television shows she usually watches.
Rene’ Landry said he expects it’ll take about three days for the water to subside.
“It came up bad Saturday night. It caught me off guard,” he said of the floodwaters at Manchac Point. “It came up quick for some reason.”
Rick Webre, director of the Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said officials were not yet seeing any significant house flooding by mid-day Monday. He said residents had days to prepare.
Other parts of Livingston, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes managed to skirt by with little to no flooding.
Denham Springs avoided major flooding after the Amite River crested lower than predicted, said Fire Chief Joe Koczrowski, of Livingston Parish’s Fire District 5, which wraps around the city.
“We were very, very lucky,” Koczrowski said. “We had some flooding inside the city, mostly on River Road and just a few houses there.”
Just a few days ago, the National Weather Service office in Slidell was predicting near record crests for river systems across the Florida Parishes.
With those forecasts, Ascension officials were issuing dire warnings of major flooding ahead.
As the water has made its way south down the Amite, the forecasts have been adjusted downward and giving some residents and officials a measure of relief.
Gavin Phillips, a Weather Service forecaster, noted that the agency errs on the high side, a cautious move to alert people to the potential risks. He said the downward shifts are also part of the nature of forecasting.
“Like I said, ‘North Carolina is going to win the Final Four. I could be right. I could be wrong. You’re predicting the future. It’s not an exact science,’” he said.
The Amite River had been projected to crest at 39 feet in Denham Springs, only 2.5 feet shy of the record set by the 1983 flood. Instead, the river crested there at 36 feet.
“Thirty-nine feet would’ve been catastrophic for the city,” Koczrowski said. “But everyone was ready and mobilized for it just in case.”
At Port Vincent, the Amite also hit its crest lower than expected — at 11.5 feet, about a foot and a half below original estimates.
Closer to Baton Rouge, residents along Hoo Shoo Too Road and South Tiger Bend Road expressed relief that the worst appears to be over as the northern portions of the Amite River crested and started to fall Monday.
On South Tiger Bend Road, a small waterfall still poured Monday over the street at Phillips Road where Claycut Bayou, a tributary of the Amite River, had overflowed its banks. The handful of homes on Phillips Road were not flooded, but the road is still impassable, said resident David Ziegler. The neighborhood residents were able to come and go from their homes through a neighbors back yard.
Ziegler said he noticed the water coming up on Saturday while a wedding was being celebrated at his home.
“I went to the store to get milk, eggs, you know, stuff that you need,” he said.
By the time he got back, the water was almost to the road and later became impassable.
The high water was also a chance for the $21 million Henderson Bayou Floodgate to receive its first major test since it was finished in late 2014.
The floodgate is designed to prevent high water in the Amite River from backing up into Henderson Bayou and its tributaries and flooding homes in the Galvez area.
On Monday, the gates were down and one of two diesel pumps was purring at a low speed as water from behind the gate was being sent into Henderson Bayou toward Lake Villar and the Amite River.
The pumps are used to remove rainfall the falls in the bayou once the floodgates are closed.
The pump running Monday also was being used to maintain water levels on each side of the floodgates because an obstruction was keeping one of the gates open slightly, parish officials said.
Though some residents living outside the floodgate claimed it would flood them if built, parish officials have said the engineering showed otherwise.
On Monday, the Lake Villar area flooded but many homes are raised and did not appear to have water in them.
Mike Fontenot, 58, who lives on Lake Villar with his wife, Anna, was looking for a parking spot along La. 431 so he could get to his bateau and ride back to his house on Lake Martin Road.
Fontenot said he has six feet of water under his house, but the home is raised 11 feet high and still has electricity and drinking water.
For him and his wife, the high water is an inconvenience.
“We’ve been hanging in there,” Fontenot said.
Staff writers David J. Mitchell and Amy Wold contributed to this report