MORGAN CITY — There is currently no intent to evacuate as the city prepares to fight high water from the outside.
Mayor Timothy Matte explained the city’s strategy during a meeting Thursday evening.
“Some of our city is at sea level at zero and some of it is below zero. What our concern is and what our effort that we’ve undertaken is to address the backwater areas and by backwater I’m talking about the levees that border Lake Palourde and keep the lake water from flowing into the city.
“Those levees are generally at a 6-foot elevation. And the first numbers we got from the Corps of what we could expect for backwater flooding was to elevation 6.
“So we took all of those levees and, quite frankly, we added a little cushion to that and said anything at 7 or below we’re going to address. And we did that with those Hesco baskets that you’ve seen, and we’re continuing to do so with the sandbags you will be seeing in the next few days as we continue to raise those levees,” Matte said.
Residents have requested sandbags from the city with no avail. Matte wanted to focus on raising the levees to keep the water out of the city.
“We can raise the levees and keep the water out of the city and there won’t be a need to protect each house on an individual basis … We will also be raising along La. 70. The levee that exists along the La. 70 canal is high enough but the highway itself has some spots that are somewhat low and there again we can add some elevation to that and take care of that,” Matte said.
The current crest estimation by the National Weather Service when the Morganza Floodway is operated is about 12 to 13 feet of water. This means Morgan City should experience about 6.5 feet of water against its seawall.
Gov. Jindal said Friday he expects the floodway to be opened late Saturday or Sunday.
“This is a historic event, there is no doubt about it. We’re seeing crests coming down river as you look up to Cairo, Ill., all the way down the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River. The Mississippi River crested in Cairo 3 feet above the previous record, which was the Flood of 1927. In Vicksburg we’re expecting the crest to be 1 foot above the previous record, which again was the Flood of 1927,” Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Edward Fleming said.
When the Morganza Floodway is open it will take the water about three days to reach Morgan City.
Fleming wanted to dispel rumors about the reasons for opening Morganza Floodway. “You’re doing this to save New Orleans and Baton Rouge and you’re going to flood us at the cost of somebody else. That is absolutely not the case.”
On May 16, the water should reach 9 feet in Morgan City and the water should crest on May 25.
“This is going to be a massive amount of water that we haven’t experienced before. Those of you who were here in ’73 know that the river reached a level of 10.5 (feet) in 1973 on the river. And what we’re talking about here is 12.5 (feet), so up to 2 feet higher than the river. As early as perhaps the 15th or 16th we expect the river to reach a level of 9 (feet).
“At 9 feet we have to close all of the floodgates on Front Street and we close them as the water approaches the bottom of those gates. We do that to give the people on the unprotected side — a handful of residents but we have a lot of businesses back there — we’re giving them the maximum amount of time they need to get their house in order,” Matte said.
The city is building up the levee protection much higher than the anticipated water because the elevation levels are based on a general set of assumptions. They do not take into account extreme events, high tides or extreme rainfall.
“Our plans really are not about protecting one subdivision or another subdivision because, quite honestly, if water were to go into that levee system, all of the zeros, all of the twos, all of the fours — and we’re talking about a 6-foot lake up to the 6-foot elevation — is going to be inundated.
“ That doesn’t mean just Auburn, or this Guarisco property or the Victor II area. If we have a breach in one of these levees, you’re basically looking at the highway being the high point and the other side of the highway being protected. The natural ridge, the highest areas in those that are in the 6 to 8 or above 8 foot range are the natural ridge that was developed as a result of being on a river,” Matte said.
The city is planning to have 24-hour surveillance on monitoring the levees.
“We have a commitment that the National Guard will stay with us through this entire event … Our strategy is basically that if we continue to have good levee protection we’re in good shape. And that’s the course of action we’re taking,” Matte said.