As water creeps closer, residents warned: Get out

By Michael Kunzelman

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 16 2011 1:50 a.m. MDT

The Army Corps of Engineers has taken drastic steps to prevent flooding. Engineers blew up a levee in Missouri — inundating an estimated 200 square miles of farmland and damaging or destroying about 100 homes — to take the pressure off floodwalls protecting the town of Cairo, Ill., population 2,800.

The Morganza flooding is more controlled, however, and residents are warned each year that the spillway could be opened. A spillway at the 7,000-foot Bonnet Carre structure in Louisiana also has been opened.

Just outside Krotz Springs, 23-year-old Jake Nolan said National Guard troops knocked on the door of his home in a subdivision to tell his mother of the evacuation order. He said they advised her to have white towels and have access to the roof if they planned to ride it out — presumably in case of a rescue — though that didn't appear to be part of any official instructions. And besides, he didn't need an order to leave with his wife and three children.

"I don't want to be stuck here if the water does get bad," said Nolan, who planned to stay with a sister in Port Barre.

It seemed animals didn't want to be stuck anywhere, either: Deer, hogs and rabbits have started running from the water flowing near the floodgates, said Lt. Col. Joey Broussard of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. An electronic sign on Interstate 10 warned of a possible animal exodus: "Wildlife crossing possible. Use caution," it read.

Despite the mandatory evacuation order, Krotz Springs town clerk Suzanne Bellau said it was unlikely the sheriff's office would force people to leave. For most, the worst part was wondering what may happen. National Guardsmen were building a new levee to bolster protection for the town, in addition to a levee already standing.

"It's the unknown, that's the problem," Bellau said. "Is it going to come into their homes or not? And the people who are leaving, what are they coming back to?"

That was also true downstream in Butte LaRose, where Chalmers and Chandler Wheat were preparing. Chalmers Wheat figured his house would be all right so long as the water level didn't exceed 2 feet.

"If the water gets higher, we're pretty much ..." Chalmers Wheat said, before his brother chimed in: "Screwed."

Associated Press writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans and AP Video Journalist Robert Ray in Krotz Springs contributed to this report.

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