People in bayou communities prepare for flooding from swollen river

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 11 at 10:29 PM

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

GIBSON, La.-- It is a race against time now, as people in more than a half dozen parishes prepare for the possibility of flooding. A historic crest is making its way down the Mississippi River towards south Louisiana, making it appear more likely that the Morganza Spillway will need to open.

If that happens, water is expected to rise in a number of bayou communities, where people are now preparing to protect their property. It is back-breaking work in oppressive heat.

"We're just sandbagging up," said Nicholas Burke, as he filled sandbags at a fire station in Gibson, La.

By Wednesday afternoon, Burke had 450 sandbags filled, with another 800 to go.

"[We're] getting ready for the high water coming," he said. "Hopefully we work for nothing, but it's better to work for nothing and save a house."

One of those houses is the one belonging to Burke's cousin, which is located in the bayou town of Gibson. Friends and family gathered to build a wall against any encroaching water -- a final defense built sandbag by sandbag.

"It's hard to see everything you have just get ruined. So, you try everything you can," said Jean Thibodaux, who was helping to build the sandbag wall around the perimeter of the house.

The people who live in Gibson are just a fraction of the 25,000 people who could be flooded should the Morganza Spillway open.

While some in town were preparing for the possibility of flooding, others said they planned to wait and see what happened with this bayou, should that spillway open.

"It don't feel me at all," said Louis Henderson, who lives along Bayou Black, which is expected to rise up to 5 feet if the Morganza opens.

The commercial fisherman isn't worried, though. Henderson raised his home five years ago after Hurricane Katrina and doesn't think it will flood.

"I don't believe it's gonna happen," he said. "The wife, she's getting a little sick about it."

Henderson bought the property 40 years ago, knowing it was in a floodplain.

"When I bought the property, I didn't really think of all that and I didn't even worry about it," he said.

The flooding risk is something others there acknowledge and are willing to deal with, should the Morganza flood for the first time in nearly 40 years.

"It's a flood risk. We've got the bayous that come up and down," Burke said. "But it's been since '73, since they opened up the Morganza. We just do what we got to do."

"We understand to save the cities and the populated areas and industries, that's what the spillways were built for," Thibodaux said. "So, we chose to live in these areas and it's something we put up with."

It is a potential spillway opening that is out of their hands, but very much on their minds.

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