GONZALES — Some 30,000 to 40,000 homes and two-thirds of Ascension Parish's population were "impacted" by the historic high water this month that still has some houses flooded in the Spanish Lake Basin, parish officials said Wednesday.
"Impacted" means the homes had flooding of some kind, from inches to feet, said parish government spokesman Lester Kenyon.
The new estimates paint a far broader scale of damage and destruction in Ascension from an unprecedented high water event for the region.
The new housing damage estimate is nearly double the 19,000 figure officials had estimated last week as waters were still moving through the parish and inundating houses. Most of the water had moved out by the weekend.
If the 40,000 homes estimate holds up, it would mean more than 88 percent of the parish's housing stock would have had some kind of flooding.
The new estimates from Ascension officials Wednesday afternoon come as they continue to conduct assessments of the parish and as other parishes have released more refined figures of damage.
On Tuesday, officials in East Baton Rouge Parish said nearly 53,000 homes, 3,800 commercial buildings and 1,800 public buildings flooded in that parish.
While U.S. Geological Survey officials have said the high water in the Amite River Basin very likely exceeded a 100-year event, they were still trying to determine how big of a flood it actually was. Flood water was widespread in the parish, and Ascension officials are still fighting to remove flood water in the Spanish Lake Basin.
But, the rainfall that fed flooding in the river basin, in particular rain in northern East Baton Rouge and parts of Livingston parishes, exceeded a 1,000-year event. That's rainfall that has a 0.1 percent chance of happening in a given year.
Even before the latest estimates, the apparent level of damage already drew attention from top federal emergency officials and visits from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and President Barack Obama.
Kenyon, the Ascension government spokesman, said the flooding has affected 80,000 people of the parish's 119,500 residents.
Kenyon said nearly 800 businesses were affected by the flooding, also.
Despite the widespread damage, signs of recovery continue to emerge from officials in the parish and its municipalities.
Sorrento town officials restored sewer service after high water in the southern Ascension community overwhelmed the system for several days. Parish officials also said construction and demolition debris pickup started Wednesday and will continue across the parish 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert said the sewer system was overrun by the high water the covered parts of the town and infiltrated the system through manholes, possible line breaks and other weak points.
"Our system is 100 percent operational right now," Lambert said.
He said part of the problem was high water was overworking the town's submersible sewer pumps.
"So they were just pumping and pumping and pumping and water was still coming into the system," he said.
Part of the restoration effort included shifting high water from one cell in the town's sewer pond to another cell where the water level was lower. He said no sewage water was spilled from the pond in the process.
He said workers are still planning to review the sewer system for damage so the town can seeking funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for any repairs.
Meanwhile, Ascension officials have not made a schedule for debris pickup, but trucks from debris contractor DRC Emergency Services of New Orleans are working street to street and will make multiple passes until all debris is removed.
"We're asking people to be patient with us. That truck will get to their area," Kenyon said.
Tetratech will monitor the debris contractor for the parish. Construction and demolition debris is being taken to the BFI and Gator landfills off La. 70 outside Sorrento.
Kenyon added that the parish and the state Department of Environmental Quality are negotiating on the locations of "citizen drop-off" sites for debris and those will be announced once they are approved.
Parish officials asked that debris be separated for pickup as DEQ regulations call for: https://www.facebook.com/apohsep