As Water Nears, an Agonizing Wait in Louisiana

Saturday, 21 May 2011 12:13 PM

 

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BUTTE LAROSE, Louisiana (AP) — The final wave of holdouts has mostly packed up and left this town as water from the swollen Atchafalaya River inched toward their homes, their frustration and hope painted on signs outside their now-abandoned homes.

"Nothing left worth stealing," read one. "Stay strong. Believe," urged another. "Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are not. We will come HOME," are the words Kip and Gwen Bacquet spray-painted on the plastic liner that covers the entire first floor of their house.

Most had left Butte LaRose days earlier amid high tension as the water continued its dayslong trek toward the area. St. Martin Parish had ordered a mandatory evacuation to take effect Saturday, but then pushed it back at least two days after officials said the river would crest May 27 at a lower level than previously thought.

The delayed evacuation is likely to be a source of both optimism and further frustration for folks who have heard the same grim forecast for days on end. Once the water comes, residents may not be able to return for weeks. They'll have to wait until Monday for officials to decide whether to reinstate the evacuation order.

The Bacquets moved their furniture and other belongings to the second floor of their home, 9 feet (2.7 meters) off the ground. They are bracing for up to five feet (1.5 meters) of water to inundate their neighborhood. Gwen Bacquet, 54, said the canal in their backyard has been rising about 4 inches (10 centimeters) per day. Their pier already was underwater.

The couple moved here last summer for a change of pace from their native Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 some 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Baton Rouge. The Bacquets savored their final hours before evacuating by lounging on the deck overlooking the canal in their backyard, sharing a few bittersweet laughs with two friends who came to help.

"I'm probably numb," Gwen Bacquet said. "We still don't know what to expect."

Before leaving town, they planned for their last act: shutting off the electricity.

"Would the last people to leave Butte LaRose please turn out the lights?" Kip Bacquet joked.

Farther up the Atchafalaya River, St. Landry Parish imposed a mandatory evacuation last Sunday for several areas outside the ring of levees protecting Krotz Springs and Melville. Hundreds of homes in all the evacuated areas are believed to be at risk of flooding.

Earlier forecasts had called for floodwaters to reach Butte LaRose less than two days after the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza floodway, north of Baton Rouge. The corps partially opened that floodway last Saturday to avert potentially disastrous flooding in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but the water it was diverting from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin still hadn't reached the town nearly a week later.

The wait has been agonizing for Michelle McInnis, 37, who was preparing to leave town Friday after 10 days of packing up the camp she shares with her boyfriend, Todd Broussard. She calls the National Weather Service every morning and uses the agency's measurements to chart the slowly rising water's progress on a calendar.

McInnis, 37, was living in Sulphur, in southwest Louisiana, when Hurricane Rita wiped out her home in 2005. In some ways, she said, the threat from the rising river is tougher to endure than the fury of a hurricane.

"The waiting game is worse," she said. "This right now is mentally tormenting, this slow rising,"

Down the street from her camp, Tommy Girouard, 57, and his brother, Keith, 53, are hunkering down to ride out the flood on Tommy's 60-foot (18-meter) house boat. Girouard said he is staying to protect his $150,000 investment in the boat.

"It's safe on here," he said. "It shouldn't be a problem. Just tightening and loosening ropes, we should be fine."

The brothers stocked up on 400 gallons of gas and bought enough food to last two months.

Sheriff's deputies and National Guard troops knocked on his door Thursday, warning him about the evacuation that has since been lifted and telling him to sign a form that says he understands the risks of staying.

"Didn't read it. Wasn't interested," Girouard said. "I can't just walk away from this."

The brothers parked a car and left a boat and two canoes on the other side of a levee. They hope to be able to come and go if need be.

"I can go get out the back way where they won't even know," Girouard said. "Worst comes to worst, we'll just untie and take off."

One of the few who vowed to ride out the floodwaters was Randy Moncrief, 50, a retired tug boat captain who planned to stay in his family's camp along the canal so he could watch his neighbors' property.

Moncrief's father was building the camp in 1973, the last time the corps opened the Morganza floodway. He said the floodwaters didn't even reach the foundation of the home.

A neighbor gave him a camera to take pictures of the flooding for an insurance claim. Another paid him for cell phone minutes so he can call in updates. Somebody even gave him a sack full of shotgun shells to kill the snakes slithering through the area. He's already killed about six of them, payback for the water snake that bit his hand on Wednesday, sending him to the hospital.

"The water is up. It's making them run for high ground," Moncrief said, showing off the bite marks on his swollen hand.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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