Photos: Floodgates opened in Louisiana

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MORGANZA SPILLWAY, La. – Two more massive steel gates at the Morganza spillway were opened Sunday morning to ease pressure on the Mississippi River levees in south Louisiana, sending more water flowing into and further flooding the Atchafalaya Basin.

Around 9 a.m., crews from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened two more of the multi-ton gates, a day after opening two bays, bringing the total to four at the spillway 310 miles from New Orleans.

With the last opening in 1973, the Morganza spillway is slowly being opened by the corps for only the second time since it was built in 1954 in an effort to stop the bulging Mississippi River from topping floodwalls and levees south of the spillway. The river has already caused flooding in the Midwest and Mississippi Delta.

Crews opened the Morganza to spare large riverfront cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans which lie south of the spillway.

“There is a tremendous amount of decisions that get up to this point,” said Maj. General Michael Walsh, before the first bay of the spillway was opened on Saturday. 

Hundreds of scientists and engineers studied the weather and levee conditions along the river before moving forward with the flood relief plan. Back levees were overtopped near Greenville, Miss. on Friday before the call was made by Mississippi River District Commander Col. Ed Fleming to open the Morganza, said Walsh.

Walsh called opening the Morganza spillway a "historic" moment.

That decision was reached by scientists and officials after the river reached 1.5 million cubic feet per second in the Baton Rouge area with the crest still in Arkansas and not expected to reach the area for another 10 to 14 days.

According to projections, only 25 percent capacity, approximately 31 bays, of the 125 bays at Morganza will be needed to be opened, said Fleming, to lower the pressure on the Mississippi River.

Last week, the Bonnet Carre spillway was opened to relieve pressure on the river in the New Orleans area, and the Birds Point - New Madrid floodway was opened with explosives in an effort to save Cairo, Ill.  All of these drastic measures were taken as the Mississippi River flows at historic levels.

To combat the historic levels, Morganza was opened for only the second time, and this is the first time that three floodways -- Bonnet Carre, New Madrid and Morganza -- have ever been opened at the same time to reduce levels on the swollen river.

On Saturday, corps official Col. Ed Fleming said the slow opening was done for safety concerns and environmental reasons. 

“The slow opening is done for a lot of reasons,” said Fleming, “number one from an engineering perspective, the water will come out pretty quickly and you don’t want any scouring on the backside of this structure.”

In addition to the thousands of people that will have to evacuate ahead of the floodwaters in towns like Krotz Springs who have been made aware by authorities at the likeliness of opening the Morganza for more than a week, the slow opening was also done to give wildlife time to flee the area as well.

“We want to make sure they have the opportunity to get to higher ground,” said Fleming.

Roads Closed

In anticipation of the water being released from the spillway, which will flow southward flooding some roads, the Department of Transportation closed some highways in the area.

LA 417 from the North Guide Levee of the Morganza Spillway to LA 10 was closed due to the opening of the Morganza, according to DOTD. 

LA 10 from the Old Melville Crosing to the East Guide of the spillway was also closed, as was LA 77 from LA 10 to the South Morganza Floodway. 

LA 975 south of Krotz Springs was closed in both directions.