As Hurricane Barry ambled into Louisiana on Saturday, people who flooded in 2016 near the Comite River said the slow crawl of the storm amid rising river forecasts made the wait all the worse.

“It’s more terrifying,” said Candyce Bonnecaze as she helped her family and friends with last-minute storm preparations late Saturday morning in the Comite Hills West subdivision off Joor Road, east of the Comite River. As the group of six watched a drizzle under a carport, they recalled the 2016 devastation of high water from the Comite, along with tornadoes just last month that whipped through the subdivision.

While Hurricane Barry weakened to a tropical storm as it made landfall midday Saturday, Comite River forecast projections remained anxiety-inducing. A Saturday morning river forecast projected that the Comite River at Joor Road could crest at 34.5 feet early next week, a record-high about 4 inches above the elevations three years ago.

Gov. John Bel Edwards warned about the river levels during a Saturday news conference, and an updated river forecast — which would take into account lower rain totals forecast later in the day for Baton Rouge — was not expected until Saturday evening at the earliest. 

Bob Jacobsen, a hydrologist for the Amite River Basin Commission, said people who live near the Comite River should keep an eye on rainfall near Zachary, Clinton and Slaughter. He described the Comite as a "flashy" river that reacts quickly to rainfall runoff, both rising and dropping rapidly.

The Bonnecaze family’s mission Saturday morning was to move to safety a black and red 1931 Model A Ford that Bonnecaze’s grandfather had restored but that also took on water damage three years ago. Her parents, Dina and Henry Bonnecaze Jr., said they wanted to be sure the antique was safe, so they brought it to a friend’s house in the same subdivision that did not flood in 2016.

Dina and Henry Bonnecaze’s house, on lower land in the same neighborhood, took on 3 feet of water in 2016, while 6 feet of water engulfed their outdoor kitchen.

“The truck is the last thing I had for my father, so I’m not going to let it happen again,” Dina Bonnecaze said.

Concerns about cars near the Comite stretched across neighborhoods. Crystal Reed propped sandbags underneath her new red Cadillac and around her carport in hopes of preventing more vehicle losses this year. She was the only one on her street with the idea.

“I always wanted a Cadillac,” she said. “I was like, maybe if I put some sandbags around them, maybe they won’t flood.”

BR.comite.071419.006

Crystal Reed recounts her experience with flooding in 2016 as Tropical Storm Barry approaches on Saturday, July 13, 2019. Reed lost four vehicles in the flood.

Reed said her family, who lives on Dancy Avenue south of the Comite River, lost four cars during the 2016 floods. Their house flooded as well.

Reed tried to elevate everything her house out of potential floodwaters’ reach: she stacked picture frames on her kitchen countertops, lifted potpourri atop her refrigerator, piled white Nike Air sneakers on an armchair. Red beans simmered on her gas stove, and she said she hoped they would last her family for the next few days.

Still, she had her essentials stashed in her car, ready to go at any minute in case the water started to pool on her street again.

Three months ago, state and local officials announced they were accelerating their pace the long-wished-for Comite River Diversion Canal, which would redirect high water from the Comite and other bayous in the parish to the Mississippi River. The diversion canal, once complete, could provide a measure of new comfort to people whose homes, cars and neighborhoods depend on the heights of the Comite.

The 12-mile canal has been in the planning phase for 30 years, but outcry after the 2016 floods finally led to the $343 million in federal funding to complete it. If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stays on schedule, the canal could be finished by the summer of 2021.

Until then, though, people who live near the Comite River see it as one of their biggest threats during severe weather.

As Candyce Bonnecaze scrolled through photos and videos on her phone Saturday of their 2016 water damage, her mom looked at them again and teared up at the thought of going through it again.

“It’s not gonna happen,” Bonnecaze reassured her. “It’s not gonna happen.”

Staff Writer David Mitchell contributed to this report.

Email Andrea Gallo at agallo@theadvocate.com