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Louisiana's Cajun country braces for historic flooding

Residents in Louisiana's Cajun country are preparing for what's expected to be the worst flooding in more than 80 years as the Mississippi surges toward seven rural parishes along the Atchafalaya River Basin.

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“People are just waiting now for the water to come and be gone so they can start cleaning up,” said Henderson mayor Sherbin Collette. “They’re coming back no matter what – that’s the Cajun way.”

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Residents may have a long wait, as flood waters are expected to take weeks to dissipate, but they will have help when the clean up starts.

This week, Gov. Bobby Jindal assured residents affected by the flood that private and federal flood insurance will cover damage. On Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Administration said that local parishes will be reimbursed for 75 percent of costs for flood preparation. Some local officials, however, including Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet, said that the parishes should be fully reimbursed.

Houma, our largest city in Terrebonne, is not expected to be affected, but we have smaller communities outside the levee system that are very much threatened by this flood, which isn’t a natural event for us,” said Claudet, adding that more than 1,600 homes could be at risk.

In Terrebonne, the parish has distributed 300,000 sandbags to residents.

Outside Morgan City, a five hundred foot barge has been sunk in Bayou Chene to create a makeshift dam blocking backwater flooding in parts of Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes. A second barge will be sunk in nearby Bayou Black.

Parish workers, assisted by volunteers and prison inmates, have worked up to 18 hour days for the last week, installing tens of thousands of feet of water-filled dams, sandbag barricades, and sand filled Hesco baskets to protect homes, schools, and highways in low-lying areas.

Local school systems have made contingency plans if schools are forced to close, and to accommodate students who may not be able to travel due to high water.

Across the Atchafalaya River from Morgan City, the town of Berwick made ready for the flood on Friday afternoon.

At Berwick Elementary School, which stands a block inside the town’s 17-foot high flood wall, school secretary Penny Crappell watched students as they waited for rides at the end of the day.

'We’re expecting the biggest flood we’ve ever had'

“I’ve lived here all my life and we’re expecting the biggest flood we’ve ever had – six inches higher than 1973 – but if you’re inside the flood wall you should be okay,” said Crappell, who also sits on the town council.

“Our school is going to be okay, and my house is going to be okay, but our family business is going to be flooded,” she said, nodding toward the floodwall.

Down the street on the other side of the flood wall, Crappell’s Fish Market was already surrounded by six inches of water as the flood swollen Atchafalaya swept by yards away.

Crappell’s husband, Reid, is expecting several feet of water in the building and has already set up a portable market protected by the flood wall near the town’s boat landing.

“Last year the oil spill hurt us because people in other states didn’t want to buy Louisiana catfish, so things were just getting back to normal and now this happened,” he said. “This flood might put us out of the fishing business for the next two months, but it’ll be a bumper season now for crawfish, so we’re already looking ahead to that.”

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