Friday, September 12, 2008

Terrebonne Hit by Round Two

Rerun of Rita: Flooding inundates bayou communities

After Gustav brings winds, Ike brings flooding

Published: Friday, September 12, 2008 at 9:36 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 at 7:04 p.m.

HOUMA -- The situation in Montegut, Pointe-aux-Chenes, Dulac and other bayou communities is beginning to look like Rita or worse, the local levee director said this morning.

“The water is very high in some areas much like Rita, and a height in some areas that we’ve never seen before,” said Windell Curole, interim regional levee director for Terrebonne and Lafourche.

Hurricane Rita, a seminal event for Terrebonne, flooded an estimated 10,000 homes and businesses in the parish's bayou communities, pushing flood water as far north as east Houma. The hurricane caused massive damage despite never coming closer than 200 miles from Terrebonne, making landfall at the Louisiana-Texas border.

The storm and its effects awakened many locals to the fact that years of neglecting coastal erosion and failure to build any kind of hurricane-protection levee system -- despite years of lobbying by local and state interests seeking federal money -- have made Terrebonne vulnerable to serious flooding even from weaker storms as well as those that deliver only a glancing blow to the parish.

Ike, a growing Category 2 storm this morninging about 300 miles off the Terrebonne and Lafourche coasts, is expected to make landfall Saturday near Galveston, Texas.

Today, hundreds of yards of levee in Chauvin and Pointe-aux-Chenes are being overtopped, and if it continues officials expect significant levee failures in those areas, Curole said.

Residents in these areas and Montegut are warned to get out.

Officials had not determined how many homes may have flooded so far, and some roads were already impassable, making estimates difficult or impossible to produce.

Levee breaches have already been reported in Montegut near the Bayou Terrebonne floodgate, but Curole said the breach is “not a total failure yet.” But if water continues to rise he expects multiple failures of the levee.

Overtopping has also been reported in Dulac.

Montegut-Pointe-aux-Chenes Volunteer Fire Chief Spencer Rhodes said the Pointe-aux-Chenes Wildlife Management Area and Isle de Jean Charles were completely impassable because of flood waters, and officials did not know the conditions down there.

Areas in Montegut along La. 55 below the floodgate were completely underwater. Everything south of the Boudreaux Canal Bridge in Chauvin is also completely underwater.

“There are problems up and down the bayou,” Curole said. “I would tell people if you had an event for Rita, you need to be ready to take action. This is working out to be a Rita-type event.”

Winds causing the flooding are expected to continue into the night. Curole said if the water goes down, they might have a chance to save some of the levees. But for now parish officials can only work to sandbag some individual locations that are not overtopping severely.

Jerome Zeringue, a top aide in the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities said that Gov. Bobby Jindal is aware of the situation and state emergency officials are sending portable pumps to lower Terrebonne to help combat the flooding.

Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Vernon Bourgeois said deputies are being dispatched to the lower bayou areas to help evacuate people from flood-imperiled communities

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