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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the first of potentially several bays of the Morganza spillway on Saturday afternoon, a move planned to spare some districts from caustic flooding when redirecting water into others.
"We think there is a successful action going on right now," Col. Ed Fleming, the Corps' New Orleans District Commander, told CNN an hour after the first floodgate was opened.
Fleming annotated that the tough decision to open the spillway, and alike ones made in recent weeks, is being done to residence a historic excess of water in the Mississippi River system, including its tributaries.
On Saturday afternoon, the river was cresting close Helena, Arkansas, at 56.4 feet -- 12.4 feet above the flood stage, the level at which the river may start flowing over its banks -- the National Weather Service eminent on its website. That crest, alternatively high point of water, was moving slowly and steadily southward.
The move in Morganza, about 115 miles northwest of New Orleans, will lower expected cresting levels -- as well as narrow the potential because severe flooding occasioned by asset like overtopped levees and cracks in flood-control buildings -- along the rising Mississippi River and divert water from Baton Rouge and New Orleans. But it will flood parts of low-lying south-central Louisiana.
Fleming said that one or 2 additional additional bays of the flood-control structure would likely be opened Sunday, and more gates could be opened after relying on water levels. The Corps could prefer to let out as much as 600,000 cubic feet of water per second, with Saturday's opening leading to the unlock of 10,000 cubic feet per second.
"As the river needs it, we'll open it," said Fleming, referring to the spillway's bays.
By 2:30 afternoon Saturday, all those "among the first 24 hours" -- definition, those who should see flooding caused directly by the spillway's opening -- had evacuated, Fleming said.
The opening came after several days of warning, as residents in the flood zone ready to move to retention their lives, even now their homes were washed away. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal foresaw this week the high water resulting from the Morganza spillway opening could clash 3,900 people and 2,600 structures.
"Right now, a lot of people are real nervous about it. It's melancholy," said Larry Doiron, a resident of Stephenville, a town that could face flooding because of the spillway's opening. "We need to have protection so that they don't flood us."
He said his subdivision would likely be fine, as it was established at a relatively high elevation, but that his neighbors were mansion annexed levees and putting out sandbags.
Seven Louisiana parishes -- Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia, Iberville, St. Mary and Terrebonne -- ambition probable be affected by the first beginning of the spillway since 1973, along to the Corps.
Fleming said Saturday that the spillway will likely be open for weeks, and it will be at least until that long that those who have evacuated can safely return. That's for that, even after the river crests at a definite point, it will take considerable time -- in some cases, weeks -- ahead it falls back below the flood stage.
Morgan City, which sits above the banks of the Atchafalaya River, is within those communities expected to watch rising water. The Corps has joined with state and local authorities to build-up shields in namely community of almost 11,600 folk, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Really, we're just waiting," said Evie Bertaut, who has lived in Morgan City for 50 years.
Officials trust that the levees will protect the city from flooding, but some are taking preparatory precautions, she said. At Sacred Heart Church, where Bertaut works, people spent the day Friday moving momentous documents such a baptismal, wedding and financial records to the second floor.
"Most people are obtaining their photographs together, entities that you can't replace in circumstance you must work," she said.
The river's slow pace has given emergency responders more time to prepare, forecasters said. But while the slow-moving water gives residents accessory time to prep, it too manner that land could remain below water fjust aboutme time.
Louisiana state authorities have been working with allied and local similarities to war flooding -- or, in some cases, prepare for it -- in 19 of its 64 parishes.
That includes bringing in 700 National Guardsmen, as well as state police officers and prison inmates to arrange down sandbags, direct traffic and otherwise deal with the crisis, the state's office of homeland security and emergency preparedness said in a release Saturday. They have brought in and laid out thousands of straightforward feet of HESCO flood-control substance, as well as rought in hundreds of yards of reclaimed asphalt, sand and other materials aimed to keep floodwaters at gulf.
The National Weather Service said that for of noontime Saturday, the rill was by 16.8 feet in New Orleans, fair a fraction underneath overflow stage. It is expected to crest May 23 at about 19.5 feet. The New Orleans levees are built to withstand 20 feet, according to the climate service.
Still, the effects there could be felt soon: The U.S. Coast Guard said floodwaters could close the Mississippi River to boats at the New Orleans wharf as early as Monday morn.
To assist New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday that it will open 52 extra bays at the Bonnet Carre Spillway just northwardly of the metropolis, diverting water into Lake Pontchartrain. That will average a aggregate of 264 bays will be open in the 350-bay spillway.
In Vicksburg, Mississippi, the river is expected to crest at 57.5 feet May 19. This would be significantly above the flood stage at Vicksburg of 43 feet.
Homes that were built between the levee and the Mississippi River were the first affected.
"We estimate that every home built on the river side of the levee from Memphis all the direction to the Louisiana line is flooded," said Mike Womack, executive adviser of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Residents near Vicksburg counted on a levee for protection. In increase to the mainline levee along the river, beginning near Vicksburg and extending northeast for more than 20 miles, a so-called backwater levee offers shelter.
The backwater levee is devised to reserve water from backing into the Yazoo River delta and is designed lower than the mainline levee so that water can flow over it. That level is expected to be approached Monday, said Charlie Tindall, lawyer for the Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners.
The backwater levee was creature "armored" along a cumbersome plastic coating to discourage it from cleaning out, he said.
"There's a contingency it might not make it via one over-topping event," said Mississippi Levee Board Chief Engineer Peter Nimod about the backwater levee. "There is a hazard. We don't muse it will wreck, yet we absence people to be arranged."
"It's hard to maneuver for a multi-100-year event," he said.
Nonetheless, 1.4 million acres in Mississippi, including 602,000 acres where crops are growing, could flood, said Rickey Grey of the state's Department of Agriculture.
Across the South and lower Midwest, floodwaters have covered about 3 million acres of farmland, eroding for numerous peasants what could have been a conducive year for corn, wheat, rice and cotton, officials said.