Weather woes not over yet

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Paul Masoner, center, unloads sandbags while helping Shirley Shampine, Clay Richard, and Candace Dodd, from left, protect Shampine's home from backwater flooding on Beech Street in Sorrento on Thursday.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Paul Masoner, center, unloads sandbags while helping Shirley Shampine, Clay Richard, and Candace Dodd, from left, protect Shampine's home from backwater flooding on Beech Street in Sorrento on Thursday.

Officials keeping eye on rivers with more rain in forecast

Water began rising in the lower Livingston Parish area Friday afternoon while it continued receding in the northern part of the parish, officials said.

Across Livingston Parish, 163 roads had water on them late Friday and 40 were closed, said Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.

People in low-lying areas of Maurepas in the southern part of the parish began to move vehicles to higher ground Friday afternoon as water rose onto several roads, he said.

Harrell said he doesn’t expect the main highways in that area — La. 16 and La. 22 — to flood. No houses appeared to be immediately threatened, he said.

Whether water rises high enough to get into homes and businesses in that area will depend on how much additional rain falls during the next few days, Harrell said.

“More rain is forecast Sunday and Monday,” and a lot depends on what that does to water levels on the Amite and Tickfaw rivers, he said.

Livingston’s waterways will remain closed until further notice to all but emergency boat traffic because of debris in the waterways and the potential for boats pushing wakes into homes and camps, parish officials said.

High water from the Tickfaw caused problems in the northeastern part of the parish late Thursday, officials said.

The Amite River, which “came up pretty quick,” caused the road flooding in the Maurepas area Friday afternoon, Harrell said.

The river stage at Port Vincent at 4 p.m. Friday was 8.67 feet and projected to crest at 9.5 feet Saturday afternoon. Flood stage is 8 feet at Port Vincent.

Elsewhere in Livingston Parish, several homes flooded from heavy rains Wednesday and Thursday and a number of vehicles stalled in high water, officials said.

Emergency responders in high-water vehicles went to the aid of about three dozen people marooned in flooded vehicles or in residences where high water threatened early in the week. The responders needed to assist only one or two people Friday as water receded in most places, Harrell said. He said no injuries have occurred as a result of the flooding.

In Ascension Parish, more than a dozen roads remained closed on Friday due to high water making passage dangerous or impossible, parish officials said.

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials, meanwhile, announced that all hunting seasons, except waterfowl, would be closed on the Joyce, Manchac and Maurepas Swamp wildlife management areas due to high water levels in the Maurepas Basin.

Sand and bags also remained available throughout Ascension Parish, with prepackaged sand bags available at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. There could come a time in the near future, however, that the parish might have a machine that could package sandbags.

“We’re getting a little bit tired of getting a bunch of people and prisoners and getting out there with shovels and trying to get sandbags ready for the people,” said Bill Roux, the director of the East Ascension Gravity Drainage District.

He said the machine would be automated, bagging and sealing thousands of sandbags per day, and using conveyor belts to transport them to a centralized location. Parish officials could even deliver the sand bags to affected homes, Roux said.

“It’s something that the parish needs, and it’s about time we step up and do it,” Roux said.

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said the machinery would increase efficiency and save time during critical times.

“Time means everything when that water is coming up,” Martinez said.

In East Baton Rouge Parish on Friday, Mayor-President Kip Holden signed a Local Disaster Declaration in response to the heavy rains that pounded the metro area this week.

The declaration activated the city-parish’s emergency response plans and activities, according to a news release, which added that while the severe weather may have passed, the Amite and Comite rivers continue to rise and additional rainfall is expected for the parish, the release says.

Holden urged residents to avoid standing water and to use the buddy system to check on neighbors.

The St. George Fire Department, which operates in an 83-square-mile largely suburban area south and east of the Baton Rouge city limits, rescued a man Friday afternoon on Horseshoe Bend Road.

Two men who live on Horseshoe Bend Road were isolated on the street around 4 p.m. when waters of the nearby Amite River rose around them, St. George spokesman Eldon Ledoux said in a news release.

The men tried to walk out through the swift current, Ledoux said. One of them got across the running water, but the other was swept off the roadway, Ledoux said.

The man was wearing a life vest and was able to grab a tree, Ledoux said.

The victim hung onto the tree for almost an hour before firefighters were able to reach him with a boat and ferry him to dry land on Hoo Shoo Too Road, Ledoux said.

“He was very fortunate and very wise to put on a life jacket before attempting to walk through that water,” Ledoux said in a telephone interview.

The victim, whose name was not provided, told rescuers he was cold but otherwise uninjured, Ledoux said. He declined medical treatment.

Ascension Parish officials were pleased overall with the parish’s drainage system after storms dropped more than 10 inches of rain in parts of the parish earlier this week, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that need improvement.

Roux, Ascension’s drainage director, recently outlined five major projects that are ongoing or in development to help improve drainage in the parish.

Those projects include Henderson Bayou, the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station, the Laurel Ridge levee, Bayou Conway/Panama Canal basin project and Bluff Swamp/Frog Bayou/Ridge Road improvements.

Roux said all but $1.2 million of $60 million available from a bond issue approved by voters in 2007 have been committed to projects, and another goal he’s set for this year is developing a new master plan for future capital improvements.

A $21.8 million pumping station, levee and flood gate project at Henderson Bayou in Galvez, designed to stop backwater flooding from the Amite River, is scheduled for completion in November, he said, while a $16 million major expansion to add a sixth pump at the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station, which drains water from Gonzales and the central part of east Ascension Parish, should be completed in March.

“We’ve got a lot of work going on in drainage here in the parish,” Parish President Martinez said. “I don’t know if that’ll ever end as we grow, but we’re staying on top of it.”

Though Martinez said he had “no confirmed reports of flooding in the parish,” the days and nights of almost continual downpour certainly tested the limits of the parish’s drainage infrastructure. For the second time in less than five months parts of the parish saw near double-digit inches of rainfall.

“This is kind of the first time in history in a three-year period we’ve had three rains over 8 inches,” Martinez said. “Those are usually 50-year events, and we’ve had three in the last four years.”