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. (Read more Morganza Spillway stories.)