GONZALES — Ascension Parish government and municipal officials urged residents Saturday not to let their guard down and remain vigilant, although Hurricane Barry hasn't yet brought the severe rain that had been predicted.

"If you were like I this morning, when you woke up, you were wondering where the rain was. I certainly was," Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre said during a news conference Saturday morning in Gonzales.

He said the rain is coming, however, though it might be less intense than predicted.

Forecasts for the past several days predicted 10 to 20 inches of rain, in particular over Saturday and Sunday, but some newer models have dialed those totals back a bit. 

"I will say this: I just don't want our Ascension Parish residents to be lulled into a false sense of security," he said as winds could be heard whipping outside the parish Courthouse Annex.

Rick Webre, the parish homeland security director, warned residents they still faced the prospect of flash flooding followed by possible backwater flooding.

He said if predictions hold up, rainfall will be less intense than feared, and river level predictions from the National Weather Service should be lowered in the next 24 hours. 

"The river gauges that impact us most are going to be the Amite River at Port Vincent and Amite River at Bayou Manchac," he said.

Currently, the Amite at Port Vincent is projected to peak at 13.5 feet 1 a.m. Thursday. The record is 17.5 feet reached in August 2016, but if the projected crest is reached, the water will still be 5.5 feet above flood stage.

The Amite at Manchac Point is projected to crest at 20 feet 7 p.m. Wednesday, about 1.5 feet below the record from August 2016. Flood stage is 9 feet.

Bob Jacobsen, a hydrologist for the Amite River Basin Commission, said in an email that the region still faces the threat of more than 10 inches of rain but warned that the forecasts should be viewed more like a guidance because they aren't based on actual rainfall amounts.

"These forecasts naturally have some uncertainty regarding the exact total amount, intensity (time-frame), and extent (how widespread) of heavy rains across the entire (basin)," he wrote.

Teri Casso, the Ascension Parish  Council chairwoman, said the parish's pumping stations in the McElroy Swamp and in the town of Sorrento have been manned since Wednesday and have been periodically pumped as needed to maintain safe levels. 

In northeastern Ascension, the Henderson Bayou floodgate, which is designed to block backwater flow up the bayou's watershed from the Amite, was shut Friday night and its pumps were activated.

Under guidelines with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Henderson Bayou pumps aren't a major drainage system but are designed only to remove rain that falls in the bayou's watershed once the gates are closed.

The parish has also installed portable pumps at known areas with chronic flooding problems. One of those pumps was also installed in the town of Sorrento to supplement the parish pumping station there.

"At this time yesterday, I was very concerned that we may have had somewhat of a repeat of 2016. I'm a little bit at ease this morning after reviewing the weather forecast," Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert said. "But I again I ask the people of Sorrento, please do not let your guard down."


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

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