MORGAN CITY – The Atchafalaya River in Morgan City was expected to rise almost a foot today, possibly because the first wave of Morganza Spillway floodwaters could be arriving.
According to the National Weather Service, the river stage in Morgan City was at 7.63 feet, or nearly idle from its levels 24 hours ago. However, the river is expected to jump to 8.2 feet by 1 p.m. and 8.4 feet by 7 p.m.
According to the estimates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, waters were expected to reach here if 50 percent of the Morganza was used. However, officials have opened the gates of Morganza slower than anticipated, slowing down travel time of the water to St. Mary Parish.
Still, Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte said residents should expect the river to rise about 1.5 feet by Saturday and another 2 feet from Saturday to Wednesday.
The forecasts are based on assumptions that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will only operate the Morganza Spillway, a relief valve for the swollen Mississippi River, at no more than 25 percent.
In preparation for water that will flow into Lake Palourde, which is projected to be no more than 5 feet, the city is raising its backwater levees. Work at Justa Street and Auburn Subdivision are complete, while work on La. 70 is 90 percent complete.
Lake Palourde water levels continued to drop during the past 24 hours, as it now sits at 4.07 feet.
City crews are continuing to work on backwater levees in the rear of private properties on Lake Palourde Drive to complete levee protection above projected Lake Palourde levels. A third of this task has been completed.
The city and National Guard also have installed about half of the 8,000 feet of flood protection baskets on the Siracusaville levee.
On the south side of town, the city has closed 17 gates and was scheduled to close one at Phoenix Energy near Youngs Road.
The gate at Levee Road, which is the only remaining gate open with access to Front Street, will be closed in the next day or so, while city officials will be monitoring gates on the south side of the city.
Duval Arthur Jr., the parish director of emergency preparedness, said he anticipates no road closures in St. Mary Parish.
Beginning today, the city is offering its residents sandbags from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. each day under the E.J. “Lionel” Grizzaffi U.S. 90 bridge at Second Street as well as under the elevated four-lane U.S. 90 at David Drive.
Residents will be limited to 25 sandbags because supplies are limited, and city officials are trying to spread them out as much as possible.
However, Matte said the city is trying to get more sand for its residents.
While no evacuations are planned, city leaders encourage residents to plan ahead, just like they would during a hurricane.
In Amelia, Parish Councilman Chuck Walters said work continues to seal off Amelia and Siracusaville from backwater flooding threats but said all the work locally is secondary to the barge structure south in Bayou Chene. The barge, officials hope, will be complete today, and will slow down the backwater flow of the Atchafalaya River via Bayou Chene into St. Mary, Assumption, Lower St. Martin, Pointe Coupee, Iberville and Terrebonne parishes.
“It’s a modern marvel what they got to do in a short period of time,” he said. “That barge, when you look at it, probably affects 30,000 to 40,000 lives,” he said.
Preparations, though, are ongoing across eastern St. Mary Parish to seal off communities from possible intrusion from the Atchafalaya River and its tributaries.
Walters said St. Tammany Parish has brought its command center to Amelia and crews from St. Tammany Parish are helping National Guard and parish crews with sandbagging operations. St. Tammany officials will be here to help with sandbagging operations until the end of the week.
Walters said St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis spent a whole day in Amelia and brought the parish’s Office of Emergency Preparedness Director, too.
Walters also said the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development’s Lafayette and New Orleans districts have sent 20 trucks and bulldozers to the area to work 24 hours a day to fortify and raise levees as well.
“It’s been a very, very good, collective, aggressive effort that we’re putting in to do basically two weeks of work in about six days,” Walters said.
Despite their efforts, though, Walters said the parish did not have enough time or manpower to secure all of the Amelia area businesses, who will be the most effected if the water would rise extremely high.
“We’re crossing our fingers that the National Weather Service is correct in their prediction of a pretty dry May and also the fact that the crest is coming down and the barge is in place that the water levels will be a little lower than initial projections were,” he said. “If we can live around that 4.6 to 5 foot range (for Bayou Boeuf water levels), we all can survive this.”