Floodgates open in Louisiana
Battle on to avert repeat of Katrina disaster
Published 16/05/2011 | 09:10
FloodWATERS spread through the fields and swamps of Louisiana yesterday after a floodgate was opened for the first time in nearly four decades in a bid to save the cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge from a repeat of the disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
With the Mississippi River bursting its banks from a deluge of rain and the melting of heavy winter snows, officials decided to flood up to 4,828 sq km of land in its lower reaches, diverting water away from not only the cities but numerous oil refineries and chemical plants.
Residents on the flood plain were told to leave their homes as water accumulated. It was expected to reach depths of 25 feet.
Some 25,000 people and 11,000 buildings could be affected by the oncoming water. Many people living in the threatened stretch of Cajun countryside -- an area colonised by French speakers -- have already fled.
The crest of the Mississippi is still more than a week away from the Morganza spillway, but on its journey towards the delta, the river has broken records for levels held since the 1920s.
Earlier this month, army engineers blew holes into a levee in Missouri to employ a similar cities-first strategy and also opened a spillway northwest of New Orleans.
In Amelia, 160km south of the spillway, crews worked around the clock to build earthworks and reinforce levees ahead of a torrent of water that is expected to reach the area today or tomorrow.
"I hope they know what they are doing," said Hue Tran, as he watched the giant dump trucks from a food store, close to the intercoastal waterway.
"I hope it will give us a little bit of peace but we're scared that the water will come over," he added.
Flooding has already claimed three million acres of farmland in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas and has evoked comparisons to historic floods in 1927 and 1937.
Louisiana towns in the path of the floodway like Krotz Springs, Butte LaRose and Morgan City are making plans for severe flooding that could be sustained for three weeks before the water works its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Failing to open the spillway would have put New Orleans at risk of flooding that, according to computer models, would eclipse damage done by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when 80pc of the city was flooded. (© Daily Telegraph, London)