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Mississippi River still on the rise

By Michael Kunzelman

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 21 2011 10:57 p.m. MDT

The 'Bettye M. Jenkins' tugboat assists in pushing barges loaded with light cycle oil upriver, underneath the bridges connecting Natchez, Miss., and Vidalia, La., in the swollen Mississippi River, Saturday, May 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Associated Press

BUTTE LAROSE, La. — The final wave of holdouts has mostly packed up and left this Louisiana town as water from the swollen Atchafalaya River has inched toward their homes, with their frustration and hope painted on signs posted outside.

"Nothing left worth stealing," read one. "Stay strong. Believe," urged another. "Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are not. We will come HOME," are the words Kip and Gwen Bacquet spray-painted on the plastic liner that covers the entire first floor of their house.

Most had left Butte LaRose days earlier amid high tension as the water continued its trek toward the area, about 45 miles west of Baton Rouge.

The Army Corps of Engineers partially opened the Mississippi River's Morganza floodway May 14 to spare Baton Rouge and New Orleans from catastrophic flooding, but the water it was diverting from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin still hadn't reached the town nearly a week later.

While Mississippi communities that line their namesake river were waiting for floodwaters to recede Saturday, Louisiana residents in the path of diverted waters were enduring an agonizing wait.

In St. Martin's Parish, La., a mandatory evacuation was ordered to take effect Saturday, only to be pushed back at least two days after officials said the river would crest May 27 at a lower level than previously thought. Meanwhile, communities along the Mississippi River in Mississippi wait for floodwaters to recede.

The delayed evacuation in St. Martin's Parish, La. is likely to be a source of both optimism and further frustration for residents who have heard the same grim forecast for days on end. Once the water comes, residents may not be able to return for weeks. They'll have to wait until Monday for officials to decide whether to reinstate the evacuation order.

"It's probably a blessing for some because maybe some people who didn't have time to do additional sandbagging will now have more time," said Maj. Ginny Higgins, a spokeswoman for the St. Martin's Parish sheriff's office.

Kip and Gwen Bacquet moved their furniture and other belongings to the second floor of their home, nine feet off the ground. They are bracing for up to five feet of water to inundate their neighborhood. Gwen Bacquet, 54, said the canal in their backyard has been rising about four inches per day. Their pier already was underwater.

The couple moved here last summer for a change of pace from their native Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 some 60 miles west of Baton Rouge. The Bacquets savored their final hours before evacuating by lounging on the deck overlooking the canal in their backyard, sharing a few bittersweet laughs with two friends who came to help.

"I'm probably numb," Gwen Bacquet said. "We still don't know what to expect."

Before leaving town, they planned for their last act: shutting off the electricity.

"Would the last people to leave Butte LaRose please turn out the lights?" Kip Bacquet joked.

Farther up the Atchafalaya River, St. Landry Parish imposed a mandatory evacuation last Sunday for several areas outside the ring levees protecting Krotz Springs and Melville. Hundreds of homes in all the evacuated areas are believed to be at risk of flooding.

The wait has been difficult for Michelle McInnis, 37, who was preparing to leave town Friday after 10 days of packing up the camp she shares with her boyfriend, Todd Broussard. She calls the National Weather Service every morning and uses the agency's measurements to chart the slowly rising water's progress on a calendar.

McInnis, 37, was living in Sulphur, in southwest Louisiana, when Hurricane Rita wiped out her home in 2005. In some ways, she said, the threat from the rising river is tougher to endure than the fury of a hurricane.

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