Over the past two months, the Parish of Natchitoches has experienced severe flooding due to the high level of the Red River. Much of the flood damage and citizen displacement from their homes has been the result of backwater flooding caused by the inability of certain bayous and creeks to drain into the Red River.
The Red River actually had two different flood peaks during this period. The first in late May was due to the heavy rains across Oklahoma, north Texas, southwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana during the spring. These rains caused many of the reservoirs upstream from us to fill and eventually spill over into the Red River. The peak at Grand Ecore was approximately 9 feet above normal flood stage, leading to the widespread inundation of timber and crop land and the flooding of a number of homes. The second peak river stage occurred around the first of July. Although the high water mark was not as high as the first one, it also created problems for our citizens. This peak was made worse by the 10 to 15 inches of rain that fell when tropical storm Bill passed through the area in June. The reservoirs to the north of us that had been releasing water slowly to prevent damage downstream, had to suddenly release more water than planned.
As many of you are aware, there were approximately 25 different Parish roads and several State roads that were under water during this period. For some, it was just the inconvenience of having to take long detours to get where they needed to go. For others, it meant having to use a boat to get to their homes.
In anticipation of the river flooding, your Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness started meeting with the other Parish and State officials to coordinate actions before the first river peak occurred. Sand bags were provided to many families and some were assisted with the relocation of their livestock by the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office.
We have continued to work with the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to coordinate our activities during the disaster recovery.
One of the major thrusts of our efforts was to get the President to declare the flood damage a national disaster and we met with Senator David Vitter and the State staff of Senator Bill Cassidy to enlist their support. Our Parish was one of the first parishes to declare the flood disaster on the local level and Governor Jindal quickly followed suit. We are pleased to report that the President has now issued the disaster declaration.
This is very important to Natchitoches Parish. Without the federal declaration, the total cost of repairs to our roads and bridges would have to be borne by the Parish. Based upon our preliminary assessments, that would have had a significant negative impact on our ability to maintain our roads for the rest of 2015 and well into 2016. With the declaration, we can go forward with the knowledge that the federal government will share in the costs of these repairs.
One word of caution is warranted. Our Public Works Department, Treasurer and other staff are working on the project data documents required to justify federal funds to be reimbursed to the Parish. Some of the damages may not be known until the passage of weeks or even months following the flood. Until we know the full scope of the damages and FEMA reviews and evaluates our submittals, we cannot be certain of the exact amount of funds we will be receiving.
While the President’s declaration included Natchitoches Parish in the list of Parishes eligible for assistance for public damage recovery, it did not include individual damage cases. It remains to be seen whether there will be enough damage to individual residences for those in the Parish to receive financial assistance. At this point, it does not look promising.