GONZALES — Livingston and Ascension parish residents braced Thursday for possibly more flooding this weekend and St. James Parish officials warily watched lingering effects of storm surge in Lake Maurepas as Isaac’s trailing rains headed northward.
By 4 p.m., Isaac’s eye was near Ruston and approaching southern Arkansas, but fears remained that rainfall dumped in the Amite River Basin by the one-time Category 1 hurricane would clash with storm surge in Lake Maurepas and back up water into Livingston and Ascension.
The combination of surge and uncertainty about the height of the Amite’s expected crest this weekend — 9 feet on Sunday at Port Vincent — prompted worries from Ascension Parish officials that their critical Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station in the McElroy Swamp might not be able to keep ahead of the floodwater.
Rising tides on the back side of the station, where the big pumps discharge water, also inched within a foot and a half of swamping the facility.
Wind direction, additional rain and the timing of lowering surges could all play a factor in the battle against flooding in the parishes.
“Again, it’s a lot of variables that we’re trying to get a handle on, and as soon as we know more, we’ll give you that information,” Bill Roux, East Ascension Drainage director, told a gathering of municipal, parish and state officials Thursday at the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales.
On the northwest end of Ascension, parish officials also scrambled to bolster a temporary levee around a floodgate system under repair, so Bayou Manchac, swollen from Amite River backwater and rain, would not overflow into swamps counted on for rainfall storage.
On Thursday, the Livingston and Ascension parish presidents ordered closure of all inland waterways in their parishes due to high water.
“The water is our worst enemy at this time,” Parish President Layton Ricks said at a press conference.
To the southeast in St. James Parish, officials set about combating rising backwater from Lake Maurepas, which already has flooded parts of LaPlace.
“We have some low-lying areas on the east bank” that are at potential risk of flooding, said Eric Deroche, St. James Parish director of emergency preparedness.
Surges or tides can move from Lake Maurepas into St. James through Blind River and through St. James’ northern swamps. Parish officials said the backwater flow could take two or three days to reach the parish.
Deroche said officials are in a “wait-and-see” mode, but have moved equipment and sandbags into place.
Ascension and Livingston have already seen effects from Isaac. Ditches, creeks and bayous overflowed into yards, roads, some school parking lots and at least a few homes, parish officials said.
According to preliminary data from the National Weather Service, Isaac dropped 14.4 inches on the town of Livingston, the third-highest rain total of any community in southeastern Louisiana or southern Mississippi. The total is the highest in the greater Baton Rouge area.
Isaac dropped 12.28 inches in Port Vincent and as much as 10.38 inches in Gonzales. The data is through 6 p.m. Thursday.
Flooding on the southern end of the Livingston around the Amite and separately around the Tickfaw River has been extensive, with areas of La. 22 being completely submerged.
“Some families have lost everything,” Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said. “Our hearts and prayers are with them.”
The Clio Bridge is impassable, with water rising 2 or more feet above the highway, Ard said.
Calls for rescue began pouring into the Livingston Parish Emergency Operations Center on Thursday evening, Ricks said.
The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office sent two buses late Thursday to pick up residents in the French Settlement area around La. 16 and La. 22 on the Amite River and in the Killian-Springfield area on the Tickfaw River, Ricks said.
A Red Cross shelter has been set up at Live Oak Middle School in Watson, he said.
Deputies closed La. 22 from Head of Island to Clio Bridge for all but emergency use, Ard said.
In all, more than 65 roads have been closed across Livingston Parish due to high water and another 50 or more due to downed trees, Ricks said.
In Ascension, nearly 50 roads were closed Thursday morning due to downed trees, power lines or flooding, a parish listing says.
Lester Kenyon, Ascension Parish government spokesman, said 10 homes were reported flooded in his parish, with the most, six, around Gonzales.
Fire stations throughout Ascension have had sandbag operations under way since before Isaac arrived, but Parish President Martinez set up a new, large-capacity distribution location Thursday at the parish-owned Lamar-Dixon Expo Center near Gonzales ahead of more flooding.
Lamar-Dixon had 30,000 pre-filled sandbags on hand and another 15,000 were expected from Iberville Parish, Martinez said.
Glenda Evans, one of the many who went to Lamar-Dixon to pick up sandbags, said she drove from Donaldsonville with her husband and son because their home on La. 308 already had started taking water in the family laundry room.
The Evanses loaded up several dozen sandbags in their pickup’s bed, where their three dogs also were stationed for the ride home.
“We’re trying to get it stopped before it gets in the house,” Glenda Evans said.
Sandbags from Lamar-Dixon also showed up Thursday at St. Amant High School as a front-end loader and a chain of more than 40 workers and volunteers passed bags hand-to-hand to protect the school on La. 431, just west of the Amite River.
Water had covered a school parking lot to the north. The bags were a last line of defense.
“All I’m hoping to do is keep the water out. We’re hoping to go back to school Tuesday,” said Chad Lynch, Ascension schools director of planning and construction.