Louisiana Floodgates Open for 1st Time in 38 Years

Move diverts water from the inflated Mississippi

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted May 14, 2011 7:19 PM CDT

(Newser) – Water from the inflated Mississippi River gushed through a floodgate today for the first time in nearly four decades and headed toward thousands of homes and farmland in the Cajun countryside, threatening to slowly submerge the land under water up to 25 feet deep. As the gate was raised, the river poured out like a waterfall, at times spraying six feet into the air. Fish jumped or were hurled through the white froth and within 30 minutes, 100 acres of what was dry land was under about a foot of water.

The water will flow 20 miles south into the Atchafalaya Basin. From there it will roll on to Morgan City, an oil-and-seafood hub and a community of 12,000, and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The opening of the Morganza spillway diverted water from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi. Shifting the water away from the cities eased the strain on levees and thwarted flooding in New Orleans that could have been much worse than Hurricane Katrina.

Residents walk along railroad tracks on their way to attempt to catch a glimpse as water is released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Morganza Spillway May 14, 2011 in Morganza, Louisiana. The opening of the floodgates for the first time in nearly forty years is...
Residents walk along railroad tracks on their way to attempt to catch a glimpse as water is released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Morganza Spillway May 14, 2011 in Morganza, Louisiana. The...   (Getty Images)
A police officer keeps watch as water is released into a formerly dry area by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers  at the Morganza Spillway May 14, 2011 in Morganza, Louisiana.
A police officer keeps watch as water is released into a formerly dry area by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Morganza Spillway May 14, 2011 in Morganza, Louisiana.   (Getty Images)
A man watches water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.
A man watches water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.   (Patrick Semansky)
A member of the Louisiana National Guard stands guard as water diverted from the Mississippi River through a bay in the Morganza Spillway begins to fill a pasture in Morganza, La.
A member of the Louisiana National Guard stands guard as water diverted from the Mississippi River through a bay in the Morganza Spillway begins to fill a pasture in Morganza, La.   (Patrick Semansky)
A steel, 10-ton floodgate was slowly raised Saturday for the first time in nearly four decades, unleashing a torrent of water from the Mississippi River, away from heavily populated areas downstream.
A steel, 10-ton floodgate was slowly raised Saturday for the first time in nearly four decades, unleashing a torrent of water from the Mississippi River, away from heavily populated areas downstream.   (Patrick Semansky)
FILE - The Morganza Spillway, center, which allows water from the Mississippi River to divert into the Atchafalaya Basin, is seen from the air in Morganza, La., in this May 12, 2011 file photo. In an agonizing trade-off, Army engineers said they will open a key spillway along the bulging...
FILE - The Morganza Spillway, center, which allows water from the Mississippi River to divert into the Atchafalaya Basin, is seen from the air in Morganza, La., in this May 12, 2011 file photo. In an...   (Patrick Semansky)
People watch as water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.
People watch as water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.   (Patrick Semansky)
Workers stand near a flood gauge, foreground, while crews prepare to open the Morganza spillway in Morganza , La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.
Workers stand near a flood gauge, foreground, while crews prepare to open the Morganza spillway in Morganza , La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.   (Patrick Semansky)
Opening the Morganza spillway diverts water away from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi.
Opening the Morganza spillway diverts water away from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi.   (Patrick Semansky)
A worker walks along railroad tracks that run atop the Morganza Spillway as water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through an open bay in structure in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.
A worker walks along railroad tracks that run atop the Morganza Spillway as water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through an open bay in structure in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.   (Patrick Semansky)
Workers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stand on top of the Morganza spillway in Morganza , La., Saturday, May 14, 2011, as crews prepare to open a bay on the structure.
Workers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stand on top of the Morganza spillway in Morganza , La., Saturday, May 14, 2011, as crews prepare to open a bay on the structure.   (Patrick Semansky)
Major General Michael Walsh, center, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speaks at a news conference in front of the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.
Major General Michael Walsh, center, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speaks at a news conference in front of the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.   (Patrick Semansky)
Water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.
Water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., Saturday, May 14, 2011.   (Patrick Semansky)
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