Floodwaters are inundating spillways surrounding the Mississippi River in the southern U.S. state of Louisiana, a day after engineers opened a massive floodgate in hopes of protecting major cities from flooding.
Residents of New Orleans and Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge, have been on edge for days as floodwaters rolled south along the Mississippi. The opening of a series of floodgates means they will be spared flooding that is expected to be worse than the floodwaters which inundated New Orleans six years ago, after Hurricane Katrina.
But diverting the river’s overflow means homes and farmland along the spillways are getting the floodwater instead. The flooding could affect 25,000 people and threaten 11,000 buildings. Some areas below the spillway could be covered with more than seven meters of water.
Officials said the opening of floodgates in the coming days would be “slow” and “controlled” to allow residents ample time to evacuate and to give the region’s wildlife a chance to find higher ground. But Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal warned residents in the path of the flood that they should evacuate immediately because, as he put it, “that water’s coming.”
Officials hope the release of floodwaters will take pressure off downstream levees protecting Baton Rouge and New Orleans, as well as help protect numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower Mississippi River.
Governor Jindal said his state will do everything it can to protect people and property in the flood zone.
The Red Cross says it has ample shelters to accommodate residents who could be forced out of their homes for several weeks until the water recedes.
U.S. President Barack Obama plans to visit to the flood zone on Monday. He will tour Tennessee’s largest city, Memphis, where the Mississippi River crested at near record levels earlier this week.
New Orleans is still recovering from devastation it sustained from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many sections of the city have not been rebuilt, and thousands of residents who left have not returned.