As water from the slow-moving West Pearl River pushed its way into neighborhoods and homes along Military Road east of Slidell on Tuesday, the fourth day of near-record flooding for St. Tammany Parish, officials got a major piece of good news: The parish has been included in a federal disaster declaration, meaning federal aid will be available to people who need it.
Gov. John Bel Edwards got the welcome news Tuesday afternoon while on a driving tour of the western part of the parish, where over the weekend floodwaters rose ferociously and disappeared almost as fast.
“Yesterday, we asked for 16 parishes to be added to the declaration, including St. Tammany,” Edwards said. St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister echoed his relief. Hearing the news was a “great weight lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
People who believe they may be eligible for federal disaster assistance can register online at www.disasterassistance.org or by calling (800) 621-3362.
After his driving tour, Edwards left Covington on a helicopter for an aerial tour of the eastern part of the parish, where the meandering West Pearl River is still pushing water back into tributaries, streets and houses.
The slowness of the flooding in the eastern part of the parish was in sharp contrast to what happened over the weekend near Covington, where the water rose rapidly and ferociously.
That difference also was evident in the response of local residents: In western St. Tammany, emergency personnel had to rescue several hundred people, while in eastern St. Tammany, many residents were cycling or walking through flooded areas, chatting amiably the entire time.
Downriver, preparations were ongoing for further road closures and flooded neighborhoods along South Military Road. State Police closed Military Road from Old River Road to Fremaux Avenue on Tuesday evening due to rising water.
The St. Tammany public school system, after closing all parish schools Monday and opening all schools Tuesday, decided to close several schools in the southeastern part of the parish, including Northshore High, Boyet Junior High, Little Oak Middle, Honey Island Elementary and Cypress Cove Elementary.
Parish officials opened one shelter in Slidell on Tuesday night for those needing a place to stay. Some neighborhoods whose residents believed Monday they were out of danger learned Tuesday that they were not.
Low-lying spots in the Magnolia Forest neighborhood south of Pearl River, especially Parlange and Burnside drives, were completely inundated, while areas less than two blocks away along Morgan Bluff were dry.
Residents spent a restless night watching the water, many said. The water started moving in Monday night and picked up the pace overnight and Tuesday morning, they said.
Joseph Godwin was wearing hip waders and boots as he carried a suitcase on his shoulders down a flooded Parlange Street.
“We’re just getting the pictures and clothes out,” he said. Godwin said his house had about a foot of water inside, “almost up to the outlets.” He planned to come back later in the day with a boat to ferry out more belongings, he said. “It’s still coming in,” he said.
At other spots in Magnolia Forest, residents gathered in groups or rode bicycles through the flooded areas. Spencer and Carrie Reeves, who live at the corner of Parlange and Longwood Court, were outside their house Tuesday morning.
The water was lapping against a piece of slate that was serving as a high-water marker.
“We were getting up every hour” to check the water’s advance, Carrie Reeves said.
Not every homeowner was nervously watching the water.
On Burnside, Carl Morgan flashed a thumbs-up. “We’re good,” he said.
Morgan was sweeping a damp walkway in front of his son-in-law’s house. The house was completely surrounded by a sandbag barrier holding back about a foot of water. None had gotten in, he said.
“This is how you save a house,” Morgan added, gesturing at the barrier and the pumps working behind it. In Doubloon Bayou Estates, where houses began flooding late Monday and early Tuesday, Sunny Breeding had been keeping an eye on the bayou for days.
He said Doubloon Bayou began rising early Monday afternoon, about the time the river crested in Pearl River. While his house is not at risk, he said, the water was the highest it has ever been, other than during Hurricane Katrina.
On the other side of the parish, Edwards and several legislators took a whirlwind driving tour of affected areas, stopping by St. Joseph Abbey and a bridge on Bruhl Road over which more than 8 feet of water had poured, according to parish officials.
While the water h
ad gone down at those locations, Edwards was shown pictures of what it looked like three or four days earlier. “Of course, I am very familiar with the abbey,” he said. “You just don’t expect to see pictures like that on beautiful days.”
During his driving tour, Edwards saw pictures and marks of where the water had been, but little actual water.
However, the view later from the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office helicopter made clear how large the area affected Tuesday was, with lakes of murky brown river water surrounding homes in subdivisions along Military Road and covering streets in affected neighborhoods. But while water was lapping at the foundations of homes, it was not up to rooftops.
Sheriff Jack Strain cruised down the West Pearl in one of the agency’s boats, pointing to boathouses with water up to their roofs and launches that had been submerged.
His observation late Tuesday afternoon was that the rising water had begun to stabilize and he thought it might begin to drop by 8 p.m., but he expected it would take another two days to see the high water dissipate. Interstate 10 and the railroad act as a levee — or a dam — and the falling water must make its way through what he called “pinch holes” under I-10 that he said slow the movement of the water.
One houseboat near Indian Village had been taken apart, battered by a tree in the swift current, and others were at risk of the same fate, he said.
Strain noted that many people live in the fishing camps all year around. Marilyn Wilson, who has lived in the Indian Village/River Oaks area for 20 years, was out paddling in her kayak. She said she took on water in Hurricane Isaac, but so far no water had breached her home.
Her garage was another matter, however, and she fumed about sightseers in vehicles whose wakes were pushing water into flooded structures.
In Pearl River, officials saw the water begin to drop in a number of areas by midday Tuesday. Police Chief Johnny “JJ” Jennings said the town will reopen Shingle Mill Road, one of the worst areas of flooding there, at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
But Tuesday evening, he said water on Pine Streets and Spur 41 doesn’t seem to have dropped, and those roads will remain closed.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon. Follow Sara Pagones, @spagonesadvocat.