SUNDAY MORNING UPDATE: The Army Corps of Engineers is at the site on Lock 2. They were able to relieve the pressure by lowering the level of the water upstream to the to the lowest level possible. They are conducting tests to determine the structural integrity now. The evacuation is now voluntary.
Eyes in St. Tammany Parish are still honed in on the Pearl River.
A mandatory evacuation has been in place for most of the day along the Pearl River Diversion Canal because of an unstable lock holding back the river's swollen waters due to Hurricane Isaac.
It was estimated that if water got around the lock, that it could reach a height of 11 feet.
A valve was opened to help relieve pressure and water was starting to get lower, but the Army Corps planned to stay on site and monitor the situation. The mandatory evacuation remained in place as of 10 p.m.
When the call for a mandatory evacuation came, emergency responders swiftly moved into action from Hickory to Bush in St. Tammany Parish.
Several agencies with buses, boats and trucks poured into the area between Highway 21 and 36 along Highway 41to get ready for a potential lock failure and to get everyone in harm’s way – out.
“We brought pretty much everything we’ve got here to work with,” said Captain Len Yokum of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
“In less than two hours we evacuated over 600 residents and probably 1,200 homes and they all have been sent to two shelters that the parish opened up,” said Sheriff Jack Strain.
But, at least 20 people who live along the canal refused to leave, including Jeff Ward.
“A few times I've seen, three times where the water flowed over the Pearl River over that dam I'm telling you about and came into this canal,” he said. “It started coming up but we never did flood."
Getting to the problem at Lock 2 on the diversion canal wasn’t easy. The parish had to break into the lock property to turn on a valve in order to stop the erosion around the lock and relieve the pressure pushing the lock’s limit.
"We were able to open those valves and let some of the pressure off,” said Parish President Pat Brister. “We received some orders from the Corps of Engineers to close those valves. We did, and we got on the phone with General Peabody and told him the seriousness. We opened them again and it's been open ever since."
Several hours after this situation first came about people were inspecting the status of the lock.
The water was bubbling up from the bottom. More importantly there was evidence of what happened earlier in the day. A sandbar now on the right side of the lock is the result of erosion and overtopping at Lock 2.
While the scouring has stopped for the time being, the evacuation stands at this time.