Flood Waters Moving Slower Than Expected

Originally published on May 18, 2011 11:41 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Now we head to Louisiana, where the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway last weekend. The idea is to take pressure off the levees protecting the heavily populated cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. But the open spillway directs water toward rural communities in the Atchafalaya River Basin, flooding areas that would have otherwise stayed dry. Greg Allen has been covering the situation in Louisiana for NPR, and he's with us on the phone now from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Greg, thanks so much for joining us once again.

GREG ALLEN: Sure. My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: And we just heard from the mayor of Vicksburg, Mississippi, as you heard, where the floods are expected to crest on Thursday. What about in Louisiana? What are you seeing there?

ALLEN: So it's coming a little slower, but that said, it did - it has reached highway 190, which is right where you start to get some people living close to the floodway. So I think we're going to be - start seeing water getting up into some of these communities in the next few days. Well, people are already seeing it in their backyards, but I'm not aware that anybody who lives outside of the main path of the floodway has actually been flooded - although we have had, you know, 3,000 people or so evacuated from these communities.

MARTIN: So, people have been evacuated, but nobody's underwater yet, so far as we know.

ALLEN: You're seeing a lot of animals starting to move in those areas to higher ground, and there are lots of higher levees that they can get to. So, you see, we see that. But the water has been moving slowly, and - but I think they evacuated those communities quicker - quickly, to try to get people out. I think they want to get peoples' attention. There were some complaints from residents that they were being forced to leave more quickly than they thought they needed to, but I don't believe the police were really, you know, enforcing it. They were trying to encourage people, and I think for the most part, people have gotten out.

MARTIN: Now, the dilemma that the Army Corps of Engineers has been presented with has been described kind of as a devil's choice. I mean, they open the Morganza Spillway, which is supposed to take the pressure off the levees in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which are the state's most heavily populated cities. But that puts the flood waters literally on the doorsteps of the state's residents, which means that they are the ones who are going to have to be - if things go as anticipated - have to be flooded. And I'm wondering how people feel about that.

ALLEN: And that's led to a decline in the fishing and the crawfishing and the water levels that they are used to and it's started to change the basin. So when you talk to people there, they actually see it, believe it or not, many people see it as a good thing.

MARTIN: Hmm. Interesting. And while you've talking to people, I just want to play a short clip from somebody you had talked to, Keith Hendrick(ph) in Butte LaRose, Louisiana. He was moving everything out of his fishing camp in preparation for the flood. And I'll just play a short clip from what he told you.

KEITH HENDRICK: The damage could be anywhere from just water in the camp to a boat or a barge - big barge coming loose and going through it. Just do not know.

MARTIN: So he didn't sound - he sounded, as you were describing, kind of with such a peace about it, if I can put it that way.

ALLEN: Yeah. Michel, when I was talking to him, he was having a party at his fish camp. Brought all his friends in there and they were, you know, moving stuff out. They were taking everything out - his air conditioners. Everything they can unbolt and take out. All his furniture. And that's what we've seen throughout the region. People are going very, you know, very workman-like about this. They're bringing in trailers and trucks and just loading everything...

MARTIN: And doing what they got to do. And, finally, Greg, before we let you go - we have about a minute left - about where you are now in Baton Rouge, what's the attitude there? Are people worried? Are they feeling confident that things will go as planned?

ALLEN: And that's happening here and in New Orleans and in communities all along the river. And that's going to go on for at least another month. The high water is going to be here for some time.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen has been in Louisiana covering the flooding there and we caught up with him on the line from Baton Rouge. Greg, thanks so much for joining us.

ALLEN: My pleasure, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.