'Historic' flood scene: Anxiety mixed with fanfare, memorabilia on the ground
Heidi Fangue is selling commemorative shirts along the highway leading to the Morganza Spillway.
May 17th, 2011
11:53 AM ET

'Historic' flood scene: Anxiety mixed with fanfare, memorabilia on the ground

Since Louisiana’s Morganza Spillway gates were opened by the Army Corps of Engineers and began spewing massive amounts of water into the Atchafalaya River basin below, the massive concrete structure has become something of a local tourist attraction.

As the gates were first being opened to help relieve flooding pressure, I looked to my right to witness virtually every law enforcement official, Corps employee, construction worker and local resident present each with a cell phone camera or iPhone in hand. That’s in addition to several dozen media outlets, like CNN, on hand for the big day. Every recording device was intently trained on the floodgates and the grand, awe-inspiring deluge now inundating a previously dry basin. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “This is historic” flowing from the tongues of bystanders along the Morganza Spillway banks on Saturday.

The scene is like nothing seen here since 1973, when the floodgates were last opened to control the mighty Mississippi River’s rage.

The grand event was highly “produced” by the Army Corps, which controls the Morganza Spillway structure, complete with a dramatic live video feed beamed around the world, provided by the Department of Defense. Several local TV helicopters circled overhead as the gates were opened promptly at "1500 hours" as advertised. Louisiana state troopers officially closed the road for hours.

The event went off without a hitch. The excitement was palpable. The explosion of water out of the first opened bay did not disappoint. Fish were jumping, rabbits darting to safety, a gator swam through the open bay. Everyone was even allowed to walk onto the spillway to see the sights from above, once the Corps had deemed it safe for passage.

So, what’s left after all the hoopla? Certainly a ton of great video, pictures and memories for everyone who had a chance to see the 2011 opening of the Morganza Spillway floodgates. Go ahead, it’s okay to ask… what’s an event like this if there’s not a commemorative T-shirt?

That’s where Heidi Fangue comes in. Her temporary roadside T-shirt stand sits just down the road from the now internationally famous Morganza Spillway, along Louisiana Highway 1. Colored clusters of fading balloons were fighting against a strong wind, and white T-shirts with orange block letters reading “Morganza Spillway, 2011, Gates Finally Opened” were hanging up for sale. Many motorists honked their horns and waved as they passed.

“We sold 198 shirts so far,” Fangue proudly boasts. Each cost $20.

“Very expensive,” she admits. “We’re kinda broke to be leaving, so we’re trying to raise money to help us evacuate if we have to.” Fangue speaks with a recognizable Louisiana accent and a sense of realism, both of which are qualities Louisianans seem to posses from birth.

Fangue and her brother live in Pointe Coupee Parish, where the spillway is located. Water is already on the rise, and both have their bags packed and camper loaded.

“We still don’t know if we’re gonna flood,” Fangue says nervously. “The locks ain’t even all the way open yet, so we’re not really sure what we’re going to do. … We’re ready to pull out as soon as we see the water coming."

As bad luck would have it, Fangue’s mother resides in Morgan City, Louisiana, which sits at the very bottom of the Morganza Spillway basin along the Gulf Coast. Floodwaters there are expected to reach 13 feet along the city’s seawall before they eventually mix with the Gulf of Mexico. The extended Fangue family there is already packing up.

It’s going to take a week or more to really know the full impact of the flood’s rage across Louisiana. Little is certain when your hopes are vested in Mother Nature and man-made levees. The “historic” reopening of floodgates of the Morganza Spillway is aimed at saving many in larger cities and their levee system  but simultaneously counterimpacts cities along the Morganza Spillway basin. There’s a lot of anxiety here along the floodwater’s newly directed route of destruction.

The first big “event” at the spillway, however, has officially come and gone. As with that historic event, all eyes remain focused on the water. And yes, the commemorative T-shirts are now for sale. However, they may come with a steep price for both Heidi Fangue’s customers and perhaps her own family.

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Filed under: Louisiana • Weather
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. norleansgirl

    All local, state and federal agencies are working around the clock to ensure the levees hold, the floodways work properly and local communities are protected against back flooding on the tributary canals and bayous. So far, a historic and successful project based on 73 years of planning and engineering since te 1927 floods.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • bigdog

      to save the big town aand scarfice the small towns and the nature – that would not have suffered without flood gates opening is just wrong

      May 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spockette

      bigdog: It just does not seem to matter how many times or how many people state that the areas that are being flooded by the Morganza Spillway would have flooded anyway, and that the wild life are not actually suffering, the wildlife were taken into consideration during the opening of the Morganza as it has been opened slowly, allowing the water to flood the area slowly, giving the wild live time to escape the water. Enough already.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
  2. Gary Fales

    what a shame to sacrifice those small, rural towns.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. cathy

    My heart goes out to all of the people the floods are affecting. How awful the waiting must be.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Reggie

    My grandfather told me about the Levies back in 1967 and how they were going to fail some day and lots of people getting killed and it happened. Common since tells you living on or below sea level wouldn't be the smartest place to live. If that was your only choice then a person should be looking at living in a House Boat. Wise up America!

    May 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • in the northeast

      SO, by your logic, not one individual should live in an area that could be affected or destroyed by a natural disaster? Floods, hurricane, earthquake, volcano? What about the entire state of California? THe entire east coast?

      May 17, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Teri

      Are you just uneducated or what??? First of all do a spell check before you hit send... Second I live in upstate New York and I don't have to worry so much about flooding because I'm on a mountain... there are no mountains to run to or to build on..Why would you even be so cold to people and family's that don't have that choice to live on a "houseboat" as you call it. Your RUDE, MEAN and to say the least have never experienced anything close to this devastation that these hard and I say "HARD" working Americans have...seems like its been handed to you..good luck in the future I hope to God that you never have to deal with the sadness that thousands of people are feeling at this point. Instead of being so negative...why don't you offer your prayers and hope for them...nobody wants this or deserves this...keep your mouth shut unless you have something good to say...theres to much negativity in this world we and us don't need yours!!! God Bless All of you in your distress and just remember there are people like me out there that have know idea what your going through but pray for you every day and your families!!!

      Teri

      May 18, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bluerunner

      Yes we have, we went through Katrina, and there were more people trapped in the superdome alone than there are living in the floodplain, an area they knew could be flooded at anytime, 25,000 people are alot less than the more than a million living in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, instead of griping about the homes they knew they might lose some day, they should be proud of the sacrifices they are being called on to make, besides, its not like FEMA isnt going to pick up the tab. In this day and age your better off being poor, if you work for your money, then they just take it away and give it to others anyway.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. American Citizen

    I'm sure many are making money off of the flood that live in that region. And some purposefully lower end homes near the riverbanks so that the federal government will rebuild a pricier home for them

    If you go to MS, you will see back streets lined with federally funded cottages – they are actually cute and not bad – sitting and rotting on the side of the road – unused because those who suffered from Katrina are "too good" to live in them and still shack up with friends and family.

    Billions of dollars wasted while my New England family goes without oil during the winter – so no – move and stay away from flood zones and even 100 year flood zones because common sense and reasonability tells you not to build there.

    Further, there are laws that specify builders should not build in these risk-prone areas because it financially harms taxpayers.

    Time to enforce these laws and those repeatedly building on the Mississippi River to be precluded from doing so or they will be be arrested.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gauthreaux

      Obviously you aren't from Cajun country!! While a statement like that would apply to some areas of this state, most people who will be affected by the opening of the spillway, wouldn't take a government handout if you forced them too.. They are taught to work hard, love God, and take care of one another. We don't wait for help, we take care of our own! Most don't have flood insurance, have lived on that land since their gggrandfather built it up generations ago. .

      Yet, you will not see them on tv asking where the help is.. They will rebuild/repair on their own then go next door and help their neighbor rebuild.. Some people may look down on how we live and our traditions, but thats our cajun heritage and we are proud of it.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Heather

      so going by your logic, anyone living in tornado valley,for example, is destined to have one hit their area at one point in time or another and they should move and leave behind thier way of life just because of mother nature?! that has to be the most rediculious load of crap i have ever heard! The people who are loosing thier homes right now have been born and raised in that area and live off the land they should not be told pack up, move on, and give up your way of life over a MAN MADE flood! this is not mother nature at work, this is man trying to save big cities that bring in money...thats all society cares about anymore is money money money...get over it, its not like youre taking your money with you when you die....and hello, a hurricane pretty much took out those areas once before...maybe god is trying to get it off the map for a reason...let mother nature and god do thier work and quit interfering!!!

      May 19, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Spockette

      American Citizen, you whine about the flooding and then you whine about your fuel bill to heat your home. Flooding the "wealthy" cities along the Mississippi River will affect your heating fuel costs down the line..... think about that before you speak.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Bluerunner

      This isnt a "man made" flood, the area has been a flood plain since before people lived there, in fact if it wasnt for man the Atchafaylaya river would BE the Mississipi river and the area these people live in wouldnt exist at all. All of you ignorant yankees need to stop making stupid comment about lands and situations you know nothing about.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ancient Texan

    Sad. destroying one area in the hope they can save another is strange logic.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tim

      My only hope is that people get out of the way of the inevitable, and that they will ultimately be taken care of. Nobody need die because of this. I agree with others that the only thing to be done is flooding some that others won't be flooded. "The lesser of two evils" is hardly much consolation for those being ruined by that "lesser evil." God help them all.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • gmf

      Is it strange logic to save the nation's largest grain and coal exporting port, refineries and 2 million people?

      Land owners in the Morganza floodway were paid for their land many years ago. People should not have been allowed to sub-divide and build homes, but they did. This is Louisiana after all, lol.

      People knew the risks, and this is only the 2nd time the Morganza has been opened. People in that area will pull together, prepare and recover. This time. With continued wet winters, this may be a more regular event.

      As for the comment who mentioned the "Katrina Cottages" and all the campers you still see in MS, a few facts:

      Those cute cottages cost $60 to buy.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    WHat happened to the Flood Camera?

    May 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Debra Delk

    After the great Mississippi Flood of 1927 Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to build the spillways up river from Baton Rouge and New Orleans with the Morganza Spillway being just one of them. Since its completion in 1954 the Morganza Spillway has only been opened twice: In 1973 and in 2011. PLEASE NOTE THIS: Residents of the area know that the region they inhabit (Atchafalaya Basin) is a natural floodplain. The Corp of Engineers issuses written notices annually to all interests reminding them of the possibility that it might open the spillway and flood the area.
    People also need to remember that EVERYTHING that happens to the Mississippi River from it's origin in Minnesota all along the 2000+ miles it flows affects the way the river behaves meaning that up river levees along the river cause the water levels to rise as it flows and the pressure to increase. The cities of New Orleans & Baton Rouge should not be the ones to suffer again. It is sad to have anyone flooded and I feel for those in the way of the water coming out of the Morganza Spillway. However, I also know that this is not truly about people but about economics. Everyday that barges are not able to make their way up river from the Port of New Orleans costs this country's GDP to suffer millions of dollars in losses. If oil cannot make it's way from the Gulf to refineries in Baton Rouge America's gas prices are affected.
    I hope that background on this stops the statements about how the government is wrong to sacrifice small rural towns in favor of urban areas.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • chuckycheeze

      thank you. i was about to write this comment myself. glad to see i'm not the only informed reader here.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Spockette

      well said.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike+

      Good post, Debra. It's called the Atchafalaya Floodway for a reason. People need to understand that this spillway does not just blast water into some random area without regard–the entire system of guide levees and so forth that lead all the way to the Gulf were constructed years ago for this purpose. It should also be noted that opening the Morganza Spillway isn't only about saving Baton Rouge and New Orleans. If no spillways were opened, there is a very real danger of the Old River Control Structure failing which would mean that the Mississippi R. would likely shift its course PERMANENTLY into the Atchafalaya basin. The impacts of that would be devastating. That basin is a much shorter and steeper route the Gulf. The MR would have gone that way long ago if it were not human intervention. Someday it probably will anyway.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Triton1

      Debra and Mike - two very good posts. I grew up in S. Mississippi, and wish more people actually knew what they were talking about.

      Mike's point about the Old River Control Structure is right on target, but I would change one word: someday the river WILL shift down the Atchafalaya - there's no probably to it. Mike, find John McPhee's detailed article that appeared in the Feb. 23, 1987 edition of The New Yorker. It's called THE CONTROL OF NATURE: Achafalaya. A fascinating and detailed account of Old River Structure, definitely worth your time.

      http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1987/02/23/1987_02_23_039_TNY_CARDS_000347146

      May 19, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Toxic Zebra

    Taxpayers have a right to bellyache about having to bail out these cofferdam communities everytime it rains or storms, anyone building below sea level or in known federal flood plains are literally squatting on an impending disaster area.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • chuckycheeze

      yep.... also, everyone in tornado alley needs to move. oh yeah, and earthquakes happen in cali, what are those commies doing not moving from there? let's all move to a dry place where no natural disasters ever happen, that way we'll all save a lot of money.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. naderchaser

    First off, this is not a man made flood. Man didn't create the water that is raging down the Miss. Man created the dozens of dams and spillways that try and control the mighty miss. Without the spillways and dams, that same area would have flooded numerous times. You can't control her, you can only hope to contain her. At least property prices will go up since you can classify it as "water front".

    May 19, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. demogal

    Flew over the open gates of Morganza Spillway as I left Baton Rouge on Tues. Impressive. We followed the River northward for a while. The flooding upriver from B.R. is amazing. The power of nature. We need to be reminded from time to time that we don't really rule the earth.

    May 19, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. db

    Let's see here, what has President Obama said or done to help out this situation? I have heard nothing so far. Has he visited the devistated area> I hve heard nothing so far. Maybe he's on another vacation in AF1! What a gold brick he has turned into, a promise the world and deliver nothing, say this and that and no follow up, able to spend our money like water and no reprocussions. Tell me, is the change we expected to see in the White House? I think I may have been mislead as I do not see any improvements at all, higher gas prics, less jobs, cost of living up, wages down, more involvement in wars and no withdraws, and the list goes on. Now we have this mess and he is ignoring the situation. Shame on him. I'll remember this in 2012 and I hope you do to.

    May 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Triton1

      He's got my vote - and mine will cancel out yours, I'm happy to say.

      May 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pax

      Oh birther, take it somewhere else. Please.

      May 21, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Observer1290

    Is Obama a liar or just criminally insane?

    May 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sasha

    good post. Ne'er knew this, regards for letting me know.

    September 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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