Hemelt: Flood threats are nothing new for St. John, St. James parishes

Published 12:02 am Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mike Shields lives weather scenarios each day, so if you talk to him about flood projections and historic rainfall data, don’t expect much in the way of excitement.

That doesn’t mean he’s not serious or informative.

When I had a chance to pick his brain mid-morning Friday, there was only one thing I wanted to talk about — the Great Flood of 2016.

Shields, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Slidell, was more than ready to supply some answers.

His office has been generating the “Flood Warnings” that have shackled all of us in St. John the Baptist Parish since the week began.

They’ve closed schools, shuttered some public offices and generally made planning and traveling a nightmare.

On Friday morning, he predicted the daily “Flood Warnings” would remain in effect through the weekend and possibly into early next week.

There was some hope, though.

“The rivers have been falling; there are a few that are above flood stage, but most of them have fallen,” Shields said. “We have what we call backwater flooding, where water is making its way down through the swampy areas into, many cases, Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. In this case, it’s a very slow process.

“I’m sure (the Flood Warnings are) going to last through the weekend. It appears in your area that is leveling off, though, so it looks like it’s getting close to its peak.”

That’s about all anyone based in St. John the Baptist Parish can settle for considering how our neighbors to the north and west are feeling the pain.

Centered on Livingston and East Baton Parish, more than two feet of water fell in what the Red Cross dubbed this week as the most costly natural-occurring disaster since Superstorm Sandy struck the Northeast four years ago.

So much for a quiet hurricane season.

Shields said the rain burst is uncommon but not unprecedented, adding there was a major rain and flooding episode in 1995 that leveled New Orleans, St. Tammany Parish and Coastal Mississippi, producing heavy rains and eventually 27 inches of deluge over Hancock County, Mississippi.

According to Shields, the threat of more rain continues.

He described the forecast for today and Sunday as typical for summer — 50 percent chance of rain each day with plenty of likelihood for late-morning or afternoon thunderstorms. The high temperature should settle each day in the lower 90s.

The rain may not break until Wednesday.

Hopefully, we’re spared the devastation our family and friends are enduring just a few parishes over. Inconvenienced schedules aside, we don’t have much to complain about when comparing our situation with others in our state.

As I finish typing this Friday at 11:30 a.m., we just received another alert from St. John Government stressing the “Flood Warning” in effect for northern LaPlace, Reserve and Garyville, especially north of Airline near Interstate 10.

Sand and bags for residents’ protection remain available at Captain G. Bourgeois, LaPlace, Railroad Avenue and Garyville Fire Stations.

The threat is real, but our resilience should never be questioned. Fortunately and unfortunately, I don’t know many people who haven’t been through this before.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.