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|Storm preparations under way|
"Waiting on go" is how one area official described regional flood preparations ahead of as much as five-plus inches of rain Thursday and Friday.
Tensas Basin Levee District director John Stringer said local governments and other agencies are taking every precaution ahead of what could be torrential rains.
"The levees provide a level of protection, but once that's exceeded, somebody's going to get wet," said Stringer. "We can only do so much flood prevention."
The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings ahead of a weather system that is expected to dump at least four inches of rain on the Twin Cities and surrounding areas over Thursday night and Friday morning.
That much rain would place additional strain on an already bursting Ouachita River.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the river was at 42.5 feet, the highest level it has ever seen in the month of October.
Stringer said local officials are concerned because the river is still rising.
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury has stepped up its flood preparations by establishing sandbag distribution locations throughout the parish, according to police jury president Shane Smiley.
Smiley said he expects to know by the end of the day Thursday whether he will sign a declaration of emergency, which would enable officials to act faster to address potential flooding.
"At this point, it's hard for me to sign a declaration based on the weather prediction," said Smiley. "If we sign a declaration of emergency based on the prediction and then it's sunny outside with the wind blowing, then we've cried wolf."
Under a declared emergency, the police jury could distribute sandbags to residents and utilize its resources to stem possible flooding. Smiley said workers are already beginning to prepare for the possibility but are holding off as long as they can.
In the event of a declared emergency, one agency that will prove critical is the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Royce Toney said his staff is already taking steps ahead of the storms.
"We're waiting to see what the weather is going to do and then we'll go from there," said Toney. "But we're increasing our patrols to low-lying areas so we can keep an eye on people and see if they need help getting out."
Also, Toney said inmates at Ouachita Correctional Center will be made available to fill sandbags, if needed.
"We hope it's not necessary, but if it becomes necessary, we will have our inmates out," Toney said. "They volunteered to do that."
In addition to the potential for widespread flooding, a rising river could also snare traffic.
Stringer said the levee board could close the Endom Bridge as soon as Thursday if it appears the river will top 45 feet. Also, the board would close the folding sea wall along Monroe's downtown riverfront.
Rising river levels could also impact traffic along Louisville Avenue at the Lea Joyner Bridge.
Stringer said workers would begin sandbagging along the edges of the bridge if the river approaches 50 feet. If the water gets higher than 50 feet, it would force the closure of that bridge as well.
"Once the river exceeds 50 feet, you're coming close to water coming over that bridge," Stringer said.
Stringer noted the various actions are projections and are largely dependent upon what is occurring on the river at any given moment.
"Those are targeted stages and targeted actions," Stringer said. "It depends on the situation."
According to National Weather Service flood maps, at 53 feet, the Ouachita River would top the levee and cause widespread flooding throughout northeastern Louisiana.
Smiley said area officials are concerned about another potential problem unrelated to the rising river.
The front expected to move through Thursday and Friday will bring with it wind and the ground is saturated.
"We're worried about getting all of this rain with high winds," said Smiley. "There is the possibility of trees getting blown over."
Downed trees could cause traffic accidents or knock out power to large numbers of people.
Entergy area manager Kenny Solley said Entergy crews are on "high alert" in anticipation of storm damage.
"We've gotten everyone prepared for the eventuality that power goes out," said Solley. "We're also touching base with some of our contractors we use and folks in southern Arkansas and south Louisiana that we may call on."
Solley said there isn't much they can do, other than put crews on standby before the storms.
"We lose a little time there, but it's important to see what the damage is before we know where to send people," Solley said.
Solley stressed one thing people can do is call Entergy if they lose power.
"Call immediately, so we'll know to follow up and make sure we have the power back up to you," Solley said.
To report a power outage, call (800) 968-8243, or 1-800-9OUTAGE, Solley said.