Damaged homes, backed-up drainage lines, threat of more rain have residents on edge
DARROW — Frustration and distrust are high in the Astroland subdivision in southern Ascension Parish.
Heavy rains sent flood waters coursing through the working-class neighborhood off La. 22, a community with street names like Galaxy Boulevard and Venus Avenue.
Jason Taylor, 45, who lives at the very end of Galaxy up against a cow pasture, had 18 inches of water in his house. He showed high water marks on the walls Friday. Two inches of murky water with dead earth worms and other floating debris remained inside the house.
“We lost everything,” Taylor said.
The flooding and continued high water prompted Parish President Tommy Martinez to declare a state of emergency Friday, allowing the parish to access additional resources and help.
Flooding here comes in addition to the estimated 40 homes and businesses that parish government officials believe flooded elsewhere in the parish. The exact number is expected to rise.
In Assumption Parish, where there also has been flooding, officials also declared “no wake” zones Friday on several area waterways.
Ascension Parish officials said the record rainfall dropped so much water in such a short time — in many cases 10 inches or more in a few hours Wednesday — that key drainage routes are backed up.
Bill Roux, East Ascension drainage director, said Friday that parish residents living south of La. 30 and southeast of La. 44 still face flooding concerns as high waters move south.
Roux said the threat of another burst of heavy rain — as happened Friday morning when 2 inches to 4 inches fell in the Sorrento area and points south — could undo progress made as high water crests in those southern areas.
“If they get any rain there, it’s just going to exacerbate the whole situation,” he said.
Compounding matters in Darrow, in the nearby Pelican Point subdivision in Burnside and in other areas south of La. 30, the drainage system relies on gravity, not the massive, diesel-powered pumps at Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station that protects Gonzales, St. Amant and some parts of Prairieville.
The main drainage artery in Darrow is the Panama Canal, which runs behind the Astroland and Pelican Point subdivisions. The Conway Bayou serves Sorrento. Both feed into the swamps of the Blind River basin and ultimately Lake Maurepas.
Roux compared the high water to a backup on an interstate highway, with traffic slowly moving on the highway and stopped dead on the on-ramps.
Residents like Earl and Alicia Price, who live on Galaxy and also got about a foot of water, don’t believe that explanation. They said they and their neighbors have never seen this kind of flooding before.
“They’re lying. They’re lying,” Earl Price, 50, said.
Residents suspect that somehow water was directed on their neighborhood and away from surrounding areas like Pelican Point, which had heavy street flooding.
“We’re not rich back here, but we are people,” said Marquette Daigle, 44, who lives in the neighborhood.
Taylor and others pointed to a coffer dam built on the Panama Canal downstream of Astroland.
Roux said that dam was built as part of an ongoing runway extension project at the nearby general aviation airport. The runway is being extended over the Panama Canal and new culverts had to be installed.
But Roux said he had drainage workers check at 7 a.m. Wednesday to ensure the dam was removed. He said it was.
Parish Councilman Kent Schexnaydre said the parish is 60 percent through a $2 million project to clear out blockages in the Conway and Panama canals, but highways and railroad tracks on the lower end of the waterways at Airline Highway restrict the flow of the water. Also, the work has not reached behind Astroland.
Schexnaydre said he wants to see millions more spent to upgrade the drainage systems.
But Roux said removing the waterway restrictions would improve things marginally in this situation because the water ends up in a swamp that also is receiving water from St. James Parish.
By Friday evening, sheriff’s deputies, Parish Councilman Travis Turner and firefighters at the 5th Ward Volunteer Fire Department station in Astroland handed out donated jambalaya and cleaning supplies from the American Red Cross.
An hour before, Turner heard from a few angry residents. He later said residents have a right to be upset and he wants to meet with drainage officials to find out what happened.
“Something definitely needs to be done to keep that flooding from happening again,” Turner said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.