NEW ORLEANS (CN) - As the Mississippi River hit the 35-foot flood stage on Monday in Baton Rouge the state Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority announced emergency regulations that forbid foot and vehicular traffic on the river levees.
Noting the "historic nature of this high water event," the regulations are meant in part to keep curious citizens from endangering themselves by flocking to the river to watch it rise, and also to keep the inspection teams that monitor the levees daily out of harm's way.
The potential flooding is the result of heavy rains last month in the Midwest.
Exceptions to the ban on walking or driving on the levees were made for certain areas in New Orleans, including butterfly park behind Audubon Zoo.
However, those exceptions may be revised in coming days as the river here is not expected to reach its 17-foot flood stage until Saturday.
In Baton Rouge, the river is expected to crest at 44-feet 10 days after it reaches its expected peak in New Orleans.
Water levels Monday in New Orleans were at 13.5 feet and rising. The U.S. Corps of Engineers announced it will hold a press conference Tuesday to discuss when to open the Bonnet Carre spillway 35 miles upriver to take pressure off area levees.
The spillway opens when the river is flowing at 12.5 million feet per second and expected to rise. The goal of the Bonnet Carre Spillway is to keep the water from rising past 17 feet in New Orleans, where the levees protect up to 20 feet.
In Morgan City, the Atchafalaya River was up to 5.1 feet Monday and expected to continue rising until it reaches 9.5 feet by Jan. 23. At that level, buildings on the riverside of the protection walls in Morgan City and Berwick will be under water and restrictions to river traffic will be in place, according to the National Weather Service. During the flood in 2011, river levels reached 10.5 feet in Morgan City before beginning to recede.
This week, people living in floodways along the Mississippi River received their annual notice from the U.S. Corps of Engineers as a reminder that floodways could be opened if necessary.
The notice was sent to landowners and people living in the Bayou Des Glaises Loop, Old River Control Structure project area, West Atchafalaya Floodway, the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway and the Morganza Floodway.
The Morganza Floodway, which diverts flooding in the Atchafalaya River basin to help reduce river levels in Baton Rouge and downriver, is always used second in command to the Bonnet Carre Spillway and is opened when river levels reach 57 feet at the structure with a ten-day forecast river flow to reach 1.5 million cubic feet per second. A decision whether to open that floodway will come sometime after Saturday.
The flooding is the result of more than 10 inches of rain over a three day period last month that overtopped banks in the St. Louis area and southern Illinois and is blamed for 24 deaths, mostly involving traffic accidents on flooded roadways. The Mississippi, Meramac and Missouri rivers reached near-record heights in Midwestern cities.
An absence of heavy rain last week will mean lesser flooding in Baton Rouge and New Orleans than was first suggested, according to Jack Boston, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather. "We have seen pretty much the worst of it," he said.
Still, Gov. Bobby Jindal last week, through the governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness declared a state of emergency in order to activate its crisis action team to monitor requests for state assistance from parishes and to closely monitor river levels and levees.
"River flooding is an emergency that requires constant monitoring and adjustment as the situation evolves," Emergency Director Kevin Davis said in a statement. The agency "stands ready to assist our local partners in any way necessary to get through this event. We also urge the public to get a game plan if your home or business could be impacted."
In the event the Bonnet Carre Spillway or Morganza Floodway do open this weekend, it will be the first time in history they have opened so early in the year.Follow @https://twitter.com/sabrinacanfiel2
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