WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump signed a federal disaster declaration for Louisiana, days before the planned opening of the Morganza Spillway. Opening the spillway raises the possibility of flooding in the Atchafalaya Basin and for about 25,000 acres of farmland.
The opening had been planned for Sunday but is now planned for Thursday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in a news release Thursday that it wants to open the Morganza Spillway only when it becomes necessary. The delay will avoid putting additional water into the Atchafalaya Basin.
It would be only the third opening of the spillway in its 46-year history. Morganza was opened in 2011 for flood control. In 1973, it was used to protect an upriver structure that keeps the Atchafalaya River from capturing water from the Mississippi River.
News outlets report that the spillway would release between 9,000 and 150,000 cubic feet of water per second. A Wednesday tweet by Gov. John Bel Edwards thanked Trump for the disaster declaration, which provides protective measures such as sandbags and direct federal assistance for some parishes.
The water in the spillway has been high for several days, causing officials to prepare for possible backwater flooding as far north as St. Landry Parish. Edwards said a barge has been submerged in Bayou Chene to reduce possible backwater flooding.
Maj. Jordon Davis with the Corps said at a gathering held Tuesday in Butte La Rose for residents who might be affected by the opening of the Morganza Spillway that the Mississippi River has set flooding records this year, according to The Advocate of Baton Rouge.
The newspaper quoted Davis as telling residents that the eastern half of the country is the wettest in the 124 years for which records exist, with current high water conditions caused by that water draining into the Mississippi and its tributaries.
Elsewhere, portions of the Arkansas River showed signs of receding upstream in northeastern Oklahoma as the Corps scaled back releases from a hydroelectric dam near Tulsa, about 104 miles northeast of Fort Smith, Ark.
Powerful storms that dropped more than 20 inches of rain on parts of the region over the past month have overwhelmed the Keystone Lake reservoir, which drains a watershed of about 22,000 square miles in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Lt. Col. Adam Weece said releases from the dam into the swollen river have fallen from a high of 275,000 cubic feet per second Wednesday to 230,000 cubic feet per second.
"We've been stepping down the release overnight. It's a gradual process," Weece said, noting that the Corps plans to reduce flow to 100,000 cubic feet per second by Tuesday.
The river crested in Tulsa on Wednesday and had fallen by almost 2 feet by Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated the National Guard to respond to recent severe flooding there.
The Illinois Department of Emergency Management said Thursday that reports indicate the state is experiencing the longest-lasting flood since 1927. The officials attribute it to recent heavy rains that have saturated areas along the Illinois River.
In St. Louis, a substantial sandbagging operation is underway against the rising floodwaters of the River Des Peres near the Mississippi River.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Mississippi River is expected to hit a near-historic crest in coming days.
Information for this article was contributed by Hannah Grabenstein and staff members of The Associated Press.
A Section on 05/31/2019
Print Headline: Trump declares disaster in Louisiana