St. Tammany Parish braced Friday for expected record flooding on several rivers in the western part of the parish, with officials urging residents near the rain-swollen streams to evacuate before dark.
By late afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office had evacuated most residents from the Million Dollar Road area north of Covington, Capt. George Bonnett said. About 200 people were evacuated in all, including some children at Camp Covington, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries assisted with water evacuations.
Parish President Pat Brister declared a parishwide state of emergency Friday morning, a step that she said allowed the parish to coordinate efforts of state, local and federal agencies.
Heavy rain that began pummeling north Louisiana on Tuesday night and Wednesday moved south Thursday and Friday, with as much as 10 to 15 inches falling in some areas in a few hours, according to Frank Revitte of the National Weather Service in Slidell.
Northwestern St. Tammany as well as Washington and Tangipahoa parishes remained under a flash flood warning Friday night as rain from the slow-moving weather system engorged rivers, sending them well above flood stage. Rivers were expected to crest Friday night and Saturday morning.
The Bogue Falaya, Bogue Chitto and Tchefuncte rivers were expected to reach “historic levels,” Brister said at a 1 p.m. news conference. People who live in those watersheds should “carefully consider whether to leave,” she said, urging them to do so before nightfall.
“Once darkness comes, it’s much more difficult and much more dangerous to get help to those people who might need it,” she said.
The parish did not call for mandatory evacuations, but Brister cautioned residents that every emergency is different. “Just because you haven’t flooded in the past doesn’t mean you won’t this time,” she said, pointing to the northwest quadrant of the parish as the area most at risk.
“There will be flooded homes,” Brister said.
Dexter Accardo, head of emergency preparedness for the parish, compared the conditions to river flooding in 1983, calling that event a “good baseline” for what was likely to happen this time.
The parish opened shelters at the Magnolia Center in Folsom and the Covington High School gymnasium.
Covington Mayor Mike Cooper warned people who live near the Little Tchefuncte River on South Tyler Street and near the Bogue Falaya at Boston Street to consider evacuating, citing the risk of water not only in the streets but also in homes.
Brister urged people not at risk of flooding to stay home, noting that sightseers could end up stranded in rising water. But Friday evening, as the Bogue Falaya was rising, people were flocking to the Boston Street overpass to take pictures, parish spokesman Ronnie Simpson said.
Despite encouragement to evacuate, not everyone was eager to leave their home. Nick Henry, 38, was using a tall off-road vehicle to get people out of his neighborhood between Covington and Goodbee. He said his home had not flooded in 1983 and he wasn’t worried. He had plenty of supplies, he said, including food and liquor.
Rising water woes began before sunrise, when two vehicles in the Folsom area became stranded in high water. Chad Duffaut, a spokesman for St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 1, said firefighters from the Slidell department went to help with one stranded vehicle and then got the call for a second.
During the morning, as flooding was raging in neighboring Washington Parish, both the Slidell Fire Department and the Mandeville Police Department sent high-water vehicles to Bogalusa.
But by Friday afternoon, it was St. Tammany that was getting help from beyond its borders. The New Orleans Fire Department sent eight of its members to Folsom to help in water rescues, including three flat boats manned by two-man teams.
A 17-year-old boy, Zachary Foret, died when he fell from a kayak in the Penn Mill Lakes area between Covington and Folsom, the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office said. The office did not link the death to the severe weather, however.
Eastern St. Tammany saw a quieter day, although the West Pearl River is expected to become a problem there next week, according to Accardo, the emergency preparedness head.
On Friday, water remained high in the Palm Lake subdivision, where police were limiting traffic to residents and discouraging sightseers.
At one point, about 1,000 customers were without power, most of them in the Slidell area, according to Cleco, but power was restored fairly quickly to most. A number of homes in Marina del Ray in Madisonville and the Bayou Liberty marina remained in the dark because high water prevented crews from restoring power.
In Mandeville, where fierce winds pushed water over the seawall much of Thursday, conditions were calmer Friday, although Lakeshore Drive remained closed.
Students in St. Tammany Parish were off Friday because it was the end of the third quarter, but the school system canceled a staff development day.
South of Lake Pontchartrain, the bad weather caused some power outages and street flooding. Most schools gave students and teachers the day off, many offices were closed, and many people seemed to stay inside.
In LaPlace, where a tornado Feb. 23 damaged hundreds of homes, longtime resident Russ Wise said some people were using the day off to hit the pause button on efforts to rebuild their houses. They were relieved the weather was much less intense than it had been a couple of weeks earlier, said Wise, a member of the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.