Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Flood That Never Came

On May 13, 2011 the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway in Southern Louisiana and diverted millions of gallons of water per second from the swollen and flooded Mississippi River down into Cajun country in the Atchafalaya Basin. The Corp projected nearly 18 feet of floodwater would settle over the sleepy Cajun hunting community of Butte La Rose. In a matter of days nearly 800 houses and trapping camps were abandoned, effectively rendering Butte La Rose a ghost town. Some residents spent their life savings elevating their homes on stilts and evacuating their families and personal belongings. The people of the Atchafalaya Basin held their collective breath waiting for the massive wall of water to envelope their community. Days passed, then weeks, but the water never came.

A towboat steams downriver on the very swollen Mississippi River past the flooded headquarters of the Golding Barge Line in Vicksburg, Miss. on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Heavy rains across the Midwest and higher than normal springtime snow melt caused one of the largest floods of the Mississippi of the past century. As the crest of the river made its way South into Louisiana, floodwaters threatened to engulf Baton Rouge and New Orleans for the first time since Katrina.
The former Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Station is seen engulfed in floodwaters from the Mississippi River in downtown Vicksburg, Miss.

Butte La Rose, a Cajun community of hunting and trapping camps nestled in the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin in Southern Louisiana, would be flooded with eighteen feet of floodwater said officials from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Corp officials made the decision to open the Morganza Spillway North of the Atchafalaya Basin to divert floodwaters moving down the Mississippi river, thereby saving Baton rouge and New Orleans from catastrophic flooding.

Inmates from the St. Martin Parish Jail fill sandbags on the banks of the flooded Atchafalaya River in Butte La Rose, La. Members of the Louisiana National Guard along with volunteers from local correctional facilities worked to shore up low lying areas along the river with sandbag levees to hold back the floodwaters.

Darold Prejean, 67, loads his collection of exotic plants onto a trailer in the driveway of his camp in Butte La Rose. "In the beginning you don't want to believe it. Then you cry about it because you don't want to lose everything. Then you pack up and move on," Prejean said.

A house along the main road in Butte La Rose is seen ringed with sand bags and adorned with an American flag after its occupants packed up and left like the rest of their neighbors. The community of nearly 800 camps was almost completely abandoned three days after the Army Corp of Engineers predicted that 18 feet of water would cover the neighborhood.

Kerry Seal Walker, 53, awaits evacuation in his front yard in Butte La Rose. Walker, a disabled resident without transportation, was the only one who couldn't flee the supposedly doomed neighborhood on his own. St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Deputies promised to pick him up before the floodwaters rose above the levees. "We can't change nothing," Walker said. "It's in God's hands. All we can do is pray."

Butte La Rose residents scrawled messages of hope and defiance on their properties before leaving the Atchafalaya Basin.

Manuel Martinez, 62, loads the last of his belongings into the bed of his pickup truck with the help of his neighbors Emily and Brian Rohdemann. Martinez, originally from San Antonio, Tex., sought shelter in a houseboat in nearby Henderson, La.

Manuel Martinez uproots plants from his vegetable garden along Parish Road 196 in an attempt to save as much of his food and personal belongings as possible from the rising floodwaters.

Manuel makes one last check inside his bayou camp. Little did anyone know that the floodwaters would never reach their projected height of 18 feet above ground level in the Atchafalaya Basin thanks to drought-parched ground upstream toward Morganza. While the residents of Butte La Rose were grateful not to have lost their camps, they still felt the financial and emotional toll of packing up everything and leaving their homes behind for weeks on end.

Thanks for looking.
**Photos copyright Luke Sharrett**

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey luke love your work. I feel you have not only got what it takes to be a great photojounalist but allso to be a great artist. keep it up mate. from mark UK.