Mississippi River flood forecast: south Louisiana residents hoping for the best, preparing for the worst

As the slug of water from upriver rains late last year continues to travel down the Mississippi River, people in south Louisiana are getting sandbags in place, cleaning out their camps and generally getting ready for the possibility that the Morganza Spillway could be opened early next week.

An official decision on the opening hasn’t been made yet because the projected flow rate, which determines if an opening is needed or not, is continuing to shift, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, officials indicated Thursday that the opening could come as soon as Tuesday.

Along the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge was at 38.2 feet and was forecast to rise to 43.5 feet on Jan. 18 before starting to recede. In New Orleans, the river crest will be kept at 17 feet by the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway on Sunday morning.

The Bonnet Carre Spillway directs water from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain to relieve pressure on the New Orleans area levees while the Morganza Spillway north of Baton Rouge takes water from the Mississippi River and into the Atchafalaya River Basin.

With the possibility of a Morganza opening, a few cautious residents in the small St. Martin Parish Atchafalaya River Basin community of Butte La Rose were at the fire station Friday afternoon stocking up on sandbags.

The nearby Atchafalaya River is expected to crest a few inches below the level reached in 2011, when the area was spared from any major flooding, but Carolyn Patin doesn’t want to take any chances.

She and her nephew, Jeremiah Matthieu, piled sandbags on a trailer to build a makeshift levee to hopefully hold back any rising water that might threaten her home.

“It’s better to be prepared,” Patin said. “We’ve already lifted up the furniture on cinder blocks.”

She is more worried about backwater flooding than the surging river.

In 2011, the water crept up to her house but didn’t come in, she said.

“It was close,” her nephew chimed in.

A few miles away at a congregation of Basin camps called Happy Town, Bob and Patty Laurendine were preparing to haul out their golf cart and lawnmower and were lifting furniture off the floor at the small baby blue cabin they bought just two weeks before the 2011 flood.

The wife said water covered their yard four years ago but didn’t get high enough to flood the cabin.

“I’m hoping for the same thing,” she said.

There seemed to be little concern farther north along the Atchafalaya River in St. Landry Parish.

Predictions in 2011 called for high water to push up into Krotz Springs, where about 375 homes lie outside the large ring levee that protects most of the town.

No major flooding is expected there under the current forecast, but work crews were out Friday shoring up a levee built in 2011 to protect many of the homes outside the main ring levee.

The town began offering sandbags to residents Friday morning, but there had been only one taker as of noon, said Krotz Springs Mayor Carroll Snyder.

“We really don’t think it’s going to do much,” he said of the potential for flooding.

No evacuation is planned for Krotz Springs or Butte La Rose at this time.

According to information from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office after a meeting of department heads Friday, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has sent out 26,000 sandbags with another 13,000 set to be delivered on Saturday, which put only a small dent in the total 881,000 sandbags available.

The Atchafalaya River at Morgan City was at 6.29 feet on Friday and is expected to slowly rise by Jan. 22 to 9.2 feet, at which point buildings on the river side of the protection walls in Morgan City and Berwick will be under water, according to the National Weather Service.

At a meeting Thursday night in Butte La Rose with Corps and parish officials, residents seemed most concerned about the prospect of being forced to leave their homes, as they were in 2011 when the initial forecast called for certain flooding.

The record 29-foot crest for the Atchafalaya River at Butte La Rose never came, and this year’s forecast is 7 feet lower.

“We do not want to call any type of evacuation unless we have to do it,” St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier assured a cheering crowd of roughly 400 residents.

Follow Richard Burgess, @rbb100, and Amy Wold, @awold10 on Twitter.

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