VERIFY: If officials knew how bad August floods would be, why wasn't there an evacuation?

Thanh Truong talks about Gov. Edwards response during testimony on the August floods.

We're starting a new initiative at Channel 4 called "Verify".  The mission is straight forward:  to get to the truth of what we see and hear on TV, radio and now more than ever, on social media.  We've heard so many mentions of fake news recently and how facts can be presented in a biased way.  Through Verify, Channel 4 will take a look at certain claims being made to see if there's any truth to them and simply present the facts. 

We’re going to start our Verify initiative by examining a claim made by a Congressman as he was harshly criticizing Governor John Bel Edwards and his response to the historic floods that hit the Baton Rouge area last summer.  The governor is currently trying to get more federal money for the recovery, so his testimony in Washington D.C. this week is high stakes. 

Let's first take look at a claim by Georgia Republican Congressman Jody Hice questioning Governor Edwards about his evacuation orders ahead of last year's flood: 

Hice:  "As I understand it, the National Weather Service was predicting this was going to be a storm, the damage of which would go beyond that of 1983, why would you not call an evacuation? 

Edwards:  "I'm not sure the National Weather Service said that in advance of the rain falling."

To get clarity on this, we turned to Ken Graham, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in the New Orleans area.  Graham said the office, in fact, did not predict that level of flooding last august until after the rain started falling.  In its initial forecast on August 16, the National Weather Service issued a preliminary warning stating quote "minor flooding is forecast" for the Amite River at Denham Springs.  Roughly 24 hours later, after the rain started falling and the system over the Baton Rouge area stalled, the National Weather Service issued an updated flood warning mentioning the possibility of record-breaking flooding. Graham says forecasting rain and the flooding that follows can be very challenging.

"You really can't forecast that until you start seeing where that low is going to stall and produce the rainfall,” said Graham. “If that low stalled over the Atchafalaya basin the impact would've been a lot less.  If it stalled early over the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain or New Orleans, all that rain would've fell over the metro New Orleans area. So, the whole thing is dependent on where it's going to stall and that wasn't evident until it actually stalled.” 

Governor Edwards testified he did call for an evacuation of low-lying areas.  As for Congressman Hice's claim, the warnings issued by the National Weather Service call into question that the governor knew ahead of time that the flooding was going to be record-breaking. 

If you have an issue you'd like to see us verify, email us at verify@wwltv.com

VERIFY: Sources

Ken Graham, National Weather Service

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