Three million acres, an area almost the size of Connecticut, may go under water as the Mississippi River flooding moves south and threatens Louisiana.
“Based on inundation maps we are looking at, about 3 million acres in Louisiana will be under water,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said at a press conference in Baton Rouge yesterday. About 2,500 people inside the floodway may be affected while backwater flooding may impact 22,500, he said.
The river was expected to hold just below 48 feet (14.6 meters) for a day in Memphis before the floods move south toward Louisiana and then empty into the Gulf of Mexico past New Orleans in about two weeks. It was at 47.75 feet at 8:45 p.m. local time yesterday, according to the weather service’s website.
To relieve the threat to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may open the Morganza floodway. Opening the floodway halfway would inundate a swath of central Louisiana along the Atchafalaya River with 5 feet to 20 feet of water. The decision to open the floodway may come as soon as May 14, Jindal said.
“The trigger is 1.5 million cubic feet of water a second going past the Red River Landing,” Jindal said. “We are at approximately 1.36 million right now.”
Gasoline futures advanced amid concern that the flooding will disrupt fuel production and distribution. Futures rose 3.1 percent yesterday to $3.3797 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange, adding to a 6.1 percent gain on May 9, the biggest since July 2009. The contract dropped 1.2 percent to $3.3385 today. Crude prices slid 0.1 percent to $103.78 a barrel.
The Red River Landing is 63 miles north of Baton Rouge, near where the Louisiana state line moves east from the river. The Morganza floodway is between the landing and Baton Rouge.
The Mississippi, the largest river system in the country and the third-largest watershed in the world, drains 41 percent of the continental U.S., according to the Corps.
The opening of the spillway would affect two refineries, according to Jindal’s office. One plant on the river may have capacity cut to 75 percent for two weeks, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources yesterday. Anna Dearmon, the DNR’s communications director, said she couldn’t release the names of the refineries because of security reasons.
Alon USA Energy Inc.’s Krotz Springs refinery will be affected if the spillway is opened, Lisa Vidrine, director of the St. Landry Parish office of emergency preparedness, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Refinery officials said May 9 that they were doing engineering work on the possible building of a levee to protect the refinery, according to Vidrine.
“If the Morganza is not opened and the levees are breached, the downstream destruction would be worse,” Fred Bryan, a professor emeritus of renewable natural resources at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “Once the river, with that cutting capacity and speed, cuts a hole you better get after it because it’s going to erode away the cut very quickly.”
The rising water has interrupted coal shipments to power plants in Tennessee, flooded more than 100,000 acres of Missouri cropland, forced thousands from their homes and prompted the Corps to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway to reduce the river’s force through New Orleans.
On the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, there are 11 refineries with a combined capacity of 2.5 million barrels a day, or 13 percent of U.S. output, according to Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston.
Valero Energy Corp. was forced to reduce operations at its refinery in Memphis to between 80 percent and 85 percent of capacity because of the flooding, according to people familiar with refinery operations.
Flooding limited movement of products in and out of the plant by barge, said the people, who declined to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak for the refinery.
Entergy Corp. expects “several inches” of water in its gas-fueled Baxter Wilson plant north of Vicksburg, based on a forecast crest on May 19, Jill Smith, a company spokeswoman, said yesterday in an interview. Gear and equipment is being moved to the second floor, and crews are sandbagging a low levee that protects the plant, she said.
NuStar Energy LP said it will suspend deep draft vessel operations at its St. James, Louisiana, terminal when the Mississippi River stage reaches 32 feet at Donaldsonville.
The river is forecast to reach that level May 13, Greg Matula, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday. Barge operations will stop when the river stage reaches 33 feet, which is forecast to happen May 15, according to Matula.
“The current forecast indicates marine activity could be suspended for one to two weeks,” Matula said.
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