New York Times
ATLANTA - Floodwater that is moving more slowly than anticipated and a conservative hand on the floodgates are easing some of the concern in a nervous Louisiana.
The Mississippi River, swollen from heavy spring rain and a winter of heavy snow a thousand miles north, crested in New Orleans and Baton Rouge a couple of feet lower than anticipated Monday.
In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers, which began to flood the Atchafalaya Basin last weekend to ease pressure on the levee system that protects Louisiana's two biggest cities, released new estimates Monday that showed that the worst of the man-made flood will hit later and perhaps with less depth than previously thought.
Still, with 396 million cubic feet of water per hour rushing south from the newly opened Morganza Spillway and record levels of water still churning down the Mississippi, residents and government officials remained on alert.
"We're absolutely still concerned," said Mark Cooper, director of the Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. "We're still at a full activation, 24/7 emergency operation."
State officials estimated that at least 2,500 people were being evacuated and that several communities in southern Louisiana could be covered in several feet of water in the coming days. As many as 25,000 people could be directly affected, Cooper said.
Those who had evacuated from the small Cajun community of Butte La Rose over the weekend had been told the forecast was for a river level of 29 feet, which would translate to about 7 feet of water or more in the center of the community.
Now, the level is estimated to be about 27 feet or lower when the water crests sometime next week.
On Monday, new models from the Army Corps showed water was moving more slowly than it did in 1973, the last time the area that encompasses the heart of Cajun country was intentionally flooded to divert water from a dangerously high Mississippi River.
Unlike 1973, on which the original forecast was built, the ground is much drier and is absorbing more water.
Also, a large system of commercial crawfish ponds, with their own protective levees, has been built since the corps last flooded the basin nearly 40 years ago. Those ponds and much heavier brush are further slowing the flow of water.
In addition, the corps is being more conservative than the last time around in how many of the 125 gates that make up the Morganza Spillway are being opened.
As of Monday, only 11 had been opened.
"Everything's been pushed later, which is a great thing," said 1st Sgt. Jimmy Hankins, an Army Corps spokesman. "It allows people more time to get things in order and allows the wildlife more time to get out of there."