HOUMA — Temporary levees, drainage pumps and even sinking a barge in a nearby bayou are all being planned for parts of western Terrebonne Parish to combat impending historic river flooding this month.
Rains in northern parts of the country are swelling the already swollen Mississippi River, which feeds into the Atchafalaya River basin.
The Terrebonne Parish Council agreed Thursday to use $1 million from its emergency account to pay for flood-protection measures, but more is likely needed, based on estimates from the parish administration. Council members said they would approve more money when needed.
Already the parish has set out sandbags and sand around Gibson for residents. Parish officials are also inspecting levees in Bayou Black and Gibson and preparing to close off drainage ditches in specific neighborhoods. Coordinating pumping with Lafourche Parish officials is also ongoing to prevent communities to the north from pumping water into Gibson, Bull Run Road and Bayou Black, said Terrebonne Parish Manager Al Levron.
“We have time now, we can do some of the damage control,” Levron said.
The parish has requested state and federal aid to pay for measures, such as additional pumps and temporary levees, made by filling and stacking baskets. Nine miles of baskets, not filled, costs about $1.3 million, Levron said. The parish also has 11,000 feet of tubes, which can be filled with water and used as temporary levees, he said.
Another plan, which would cost another $1 million, would use pilings to close off 10 openings in a ridge along La. 20 and the railroad tracks, Levron said. Those openings could allow water from the Lake Palourde area to come into Chacahoula and Donner.
Surveyors are also searching for low spots along a 3-mile stretch of Bayou Black Drive. If left open, those low spots could allow water being pumped out of Bayou Black to return.
SINK A BARGE, SAVE GIBSON
To the west, St. Mary Parish officials are considering sinking a barge in Bayou Chene, the conduit through which major flooding entered the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Terrebonne in 1973, said Parish President Michel Claudet. That year’s flood put about 4.5 feet of water in Bayou Black in Gibson and added 2.8 feet to the Intracoastal in downtown Houma, parish officials said.
The flood was also the last time the Morganza Spillway about 45 miles northwest of Baton Rouge was opened, a measure federal officials are mulling over again this week as a way to save other communities along the Mississippi River from disaster. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Thursday it would open the Bonnet Carré Spillway near Norco, which may delay the opening of the Morganza Spillway.
Though specific flood predictions for Morgan City, Amelia and Gibson have not been made available, Claudet said, this month’s flooding is expected to be similar to 1973. The Atchafalaya River’s peak, expected to be between 9.5 and 12 feet, would begin May 23 and last a few weeks, he said. Putting a barge in Bayou Chene will help divert the overflowing river water into the uninhabited marshes of southwestern Terrebonne, said Councilman Clayton Voisin, who represents the area.
“I don’t think a (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) permit will stop anything at this time, particularly since they’re the ones throwing the water down on us,” Claudet said when Voisin asked if bureaucratic red tape would prevent the barge sinking.
Calls to St. Mary Parish and Morgan City officials were not returned Thursday.
Sandbags and sand are available at five locations between Schriever, Gibson and Bayou Black. Starting at noon today a sand-filling machine will be at the Devon Keller Memorial Gym, 5575 Bayou Black Drive, Gibson, parish officials said.
Some residents are already preparing by filling bags ahead of time. Others, like Doug Daigle of Bayou Black Drive, are waiting to see more-specific predictions for the area.
Daigle’s property was flooded in 2008 from Hurricane Ike-generated surges that filled the Intracoastal. The water nearly came into his house, he said.
“We just missed it,” Daigle, 78, a retired business owner. “We were sitting there just looking at that water and when it got to that point, and my wife was sitting in a chair praying, it stopped.”
His neighbor, Melissa Barras, also recalled the flooding from Ike and hoping this latest flooding doesn’t damage her new trailer, which sits about 2 to 3 feet off the ground. There’s no way to protect the home using conventional methods like sandbags, she said, because water will come in through the bottom.
“There’s not really much we can do, except move everything that’s valuable to us to higher ground. Luckily we have boats. That’s how we got around for Ike,” Barras, 41, a cleaning business owner, said about the knee-deep flooding in her yard then.
If you don’t have flood insurance it’s likely too late for you to be covered in the event river flooding occurs in the next couple of weeks. There is a 30-day waiting period for the insurance to take effect, said Robert Alvey, a FEMA spokesman.
“If you bought flood insurance today, you would not be covered if your house flooded next week,” Alvey said.
There is one exception, however, if you are financing a new home through a federally backed mortgage that requires you to buy homeowners and flood insurance. In that case there is no waiting period for the flood coverage, FEMA officials said.