NEW ORLEANS — Gov. Bobby Jindal has given his support to the decision by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser to punch a hole in a levee to provide relief to a flooded community, citing success in doing the same thing four years ago.
The levee near Braithwaite was overtopped by Hurricane Isaac’s storm surge in the predawn hours Wednesday, forcing residents into their attics before being rescued by boat.
“As soon as it’s safe to do so, they’re going to get out there,” Jindal said. “We can’t go out there until it’s safe. But they’ve got contractors.”
By punching a hole in the levee, Nungesser said the area should eventually drain more quickly than if they were to just pump out the water. When they did it during Hurricane Gustav, it took only 3-4 days as opposed to 14.
“We learned from our mistakes that it’s a lot easier to cut those holes and repair them,” Nungesser said. “Those repairs are done professionally and to the Corps’ standards using the right materials so they do hold up as well as the levee.”
The decision comes as the downgraded Isaac slowly crawled away from the coast.
But the dangers were far from over for Plaquemines Parish residents.
Officials began evacuating a nursing home and its staff to a naval base as models predicted the possibility of flooding near the Jesuit Bend community.
Nungesser ordered a mandatory evacuation for the area and shortly after, residents were preparing to pull out.
“We literally had state police and firemen going door-to-door to get those people out,” Nungessar said. “It was a great, successful evacuation quickly. We’ll be able to rest a little easier knowing all the people are out of harm’s way safely.”
“I think we underestimated how bad it was,” Anita Cognevich said. “I would have never stayed if I would have known it would have been this bad. We didn’t sleep a wink last night. I think this was worse than Katrina. I think we have more roof damage and more structural damage than we did actually for Katrina.”
The levees at Jesuit Bend protect up to eight feet, but that includes an extra three feet of protection from HESCO baskets placed there for Gustav.
“Those are meant to be a temporary flood-fighting measure and that’s one of the reasons they’re doing the evacuations, out of an abundance of caution,” Jindal said. “Even though it goes up to 8 feet and the water is expected to be at eight feet, three feet of that is HESCO baskets and they certainly don’t want to take any chances.”
Nungesser said besides Braithwaite, Myrtle Grove and Pointe Celeste were under water and Highway 23 near the levee in Diamond was covered. And the water was pushing towards Jesuit Bend.
FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said his organization is at the ready to pitch in needed.
“We’re going to be helping, first of all, with the Governor’s request, to support any direct federal assistance,” Fugate said. “I think what the Governor says is most important – people always look at the federal government and forget that the initial response is always state and local officials and neighbors helping neighbors and our job is to backfill that.
“It shouldn’t take away from the fact that they were doing their jobs. We’re coming in to support.”