Evacuations in Cajun country after floodgates open

Last Updated: Monday, May 16, 2011 - 14:44

Krotz Springs: Renee Ledoux cried when the National Guard and sheriff`s deputies showed up at her front door and warned her she needed to get out to avoid water gushing from the Mississippi River after a floodgate was opened for the first time in four decades.
But by the 5 p.m. deadline Sunday, the 44-year-old Ledoux and her boyfriend Billy Hanchett decided to ride it out one more night on air mattresses inside the empty home in Krotz Springs. They have a camper they plan to stay in on a friend`s property outside the flood zone.

"We really don`t want to go," Hanchett said. Ledoux added that she felt blessed that they had the camper because a lot of others have nowhere to go except shelters.
Deputies all over Louisiana Cajun country were warning residents to head for higher ground and most heeded it, even in places where there hasn`t been so much as a trickle, hopeful that the flooding engineered to protect heavily populated New Orleans and Baton Rouge would be merciful to their way of life.

Days ago, many of the towns known for their Cajun culture bustled with activity as people filled sandbags and cleared out belongings. By Sunday, some areas were virtually empty as the water from the Mississippi River, swollen by snowmelt and heavy rains, slowly rolled across the Atchafalaya River basin. It first started to come, in small amounts, into people`s yards in Melville on Sunday. But it still had yet to move farther downstream.
The floodwaters could reach depths of 20 feet in the coming weeks, though levels were nowhere close to that yet in the towns about 50 miles west of Baton Rouge.

About 11 miles north of Krotz Springs in the town of Melville, Mary Ryder, her fiance and her fiance`s father were loading up a trailer with as many belongings as they could fit to drive over the levee to stay with relatives on the other side of town. Ryder lives in a mandatory evacuation area, where water is starting to creep into backyards. They worried about what might happen if a broader evacuation is ordered.
"They say we have to leave town. We have nowhere to go," she said. "What are we going to do? I have no idea. We need help up here."

The spillway`s opening diverted water from the two major Louisiana cities — along with chemical plants and oil refineries along the Mississippi`s lower reaches — easing pressure on the levees there in the hope of avoiding potentially catastrophic floods.

That choice angers John Muse, who drove from Lafayette to Melville to help his 86-year-old father-in-law Clovis Cole move his belongs. He said officials seem to be paying more attention to the concerns of Baton Rouge and New Orleans than people who live in the basin.

"They hurt a lot of feelings by putting that water in here like they did," he said. "What`s happening here, I`ll tell ya, it`s not fair."

In Butte LaRose, some 50 miles downstream from where the Morganza spillway was opened, Chalmers Wheat, 54, was among the few left — and even he was headed for his father`s home in Baton Rouge outside the flood zone. He and his twin brother, Chandler, were making a few final preparations to protect his home with plastic lining and sandbags.

"It`s almost like a ghost town," said Wheat.

It will be at least a week before the Mississippi River crest arrives at the Morganza spillway, where officials opened two massive gates on Saturday and another two Sunday. There are 125 in all. The Mississippi has broken river-level records that had held since the 1920s in some places.

PTI



First Published: Monday, May 16, 2011 - 14:44

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