Louisiana Copes With Oil Spill, High Winds, Flooding

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, November 2, 2009 (ENS) – An oil spill south of New Orleans and flooding across northern and western parishes has made it a difficult weekend for Louisiana as strong winds, heavy rains and tornadoes struck the state beginning on October 28.

Pacific Carriers’ cargo ship Pac Alkaid is now at a ship repair facility in New Orleans, after spilling 12,000 gallons of fuel oil near the mouth of the Mississippi River, off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard officials said divers have now patched a hole in the ship about five feet below the waterline that penetrated the vessel’s starboard fuel tank, which has a capacity of nearly 120,000 gallons of bunker oil. Oil continued leaking from the 179 meter long Singapore-flagged vessel over the weekend while divers waited for parts to arrive. The cause of the hole is currently unknown.

The Pac Alkaid reported the discharge to the Coast Guard at 2 am Friday, when it was anchored five miles southeast of Southwest Pass. The Coast Guard ordered the vessel to move further offshore to lessen the impact of the oil on the shoreline. Winds and currents pushed the oil to the northwest, which has caused a sheen to wash up against the rocks of the Southwest Pass jetty.

O’Brien’s Response Management hired the response vessel Louisiana Responder, a 220-foot vessel which is owned by the Marine Spill Recovery Corporation, to clean up the spill. The Louisiana Responder arrived on the scene Friday, but oil recovery was hampered by three-to-five foot waves and a lack of concentrated oil.

The Coast Guard conducted four helicopter flights with observers who have photographed and assessed the spill Saturday. The Coast Guard and O’Brien’s Response Management have formed a Unified Command which will continue to monitor and assess the cleanup.

To the north and west, Louisiana residents are dealing with the effects of several days of heavy rain, high winds and tornados that have created moderate to major flood levels.

Flooding around Lake D’Arbonne in north-central Louisiana is expected to continue through Tuesday. Hydrologists indicate that areas downstream of the Toledo Bend Reservoir should be prepared for major flooding; approximately 30-40 families in the Vernon Parish may need to evacuate.

The Sabine River Authority of Texas opened 11 spillway gates this morning and may open the gates another foot in the near future. Already 50-65 homes have flooded; 31 parish and four state roads are closed.

Worker walks the Red Chute Levee in Bossier Parish. (Photo courtesy Bossier Parish Levee District)

Flood warnings continue for some coastal areas near the Sabine River, Red River, Bayou Anacoco, Mermentau Rivers, the Red Chute Bayou, and the Calcasieu River, which passes through petroleum refining areas where petrochemical wastes have been found contaminating the river and estuarine environment.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a State of Emergency for 20 parishes: Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Union, LaSalle, Morehouse, Catahoula, Red River, Ouachita, Jefferson Davis, Webster, East Carroll, Lincoln, Franklin, Winn, Madison, Natchitoches, Calcasieu, Beauregard, and Richland.

Today, Governor Jindal traveled to Bossier Parish in northwest Louisiana to meet with state and local emergency officials and get the latest assessment of damage caused by the severe weather event.

Governor Jindal said the most immediate concern is the rising flood waters resulting from the rain that is overtopping the Red Chute Levee in some places. Located near Shreveport in Bossier Parish, the Red Chute Levee comes off of the Red Chute Bayou, which is fed by Cypress/Black Bayou.

The Red Chute Levee is a local levee, and is part of the Bossier Parish Levee District. However, there are some federal Army Corps of Engineers personnel on the ground providing technical assistance to help ensure the stability of the levee walls. Governor Jindal reports that the Red Chute Levee held overnight and the water is now leveling off and even beginning to drop in some areas.

Bossier Parish Sheriff Larry Deen ordered voluntary evacuations in northeast Bossier Parish Sunday in response to concerns about the levee and about 2,500 people – which is roughly half the population of the area – have voluntarily evacuated. The evacuation order is still in effect and Sheriff Deen does not expect to ask residents to return to that area until there is no longer a threat of flooding due to a possible breach in the levee.

Parish crews are working alongside the National Guard and other emergency responders to wrap the levee in plastic wrap at the top, which helps to prevent the water from eating away at the sediment in the levee as it washes over the top in some places.

In Catahoula Parish, water from the Ouachita River has been rising and is expected to continue for the next few days. 12,000 agricultural acres are flooded. Some road closures remain due to high water.

The LA Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and the Crisis Action Team has been activated to monitor flash flooding and severe weather across the state.

Louisiana National Guard personnel are providing levee support utilizing high water vehicles for evacuation, search and rescue and Aerial Reconnaissance.

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