Orange awaits cresting Sabine while floodwaters rise

Published 6:07 pm Monday, March 14, 2016


ORANGE — Standing outside his mother’s home off Simmons Drive Jimmy Taylor placed one sand bag after another around the perimeter of her modest frame home.

He’d done it before — eight years ago when Hurricane Ike came roaring through with a tidal surge not seen before or after — and now, he’s again preparing for the worst.

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“We did not think it was going to come back again, but it did,” Taylor said. “There is no rain, not a cloud in the sky, but it is coming. We are trying to do everything we can to keep Mom calmed down, but she is worried. She lost everything in Ike, and she doesn’t want to lose everything again.”

Taylor was among the many Orange residents preparing for record-breaking Sabine River flood waters coming from the north where the Toledo Bend Reservoir reached a record level high of 174.36 feet mean sea level Thursday after torrential rains pelted the eastern part of Texas and western part of Louisiana.

By Friday evening, all nine gates were open to 20 feet, resulting in a total release of 189,764 cubic feet per second.

In anticipation of floodwaters reaching about two feet below those brought by Ike, Orange County Emergency Management officials on Monday issued a mandatory evacuation for residents north of Interstate 10 and East of Texas 87.

Voluntary evacuations were issued for more southern and eastern areas of the city including areas in West Orange and all of the Cove.

The Sabine River is expected to crest in Deweyville at noon Monday and in Orange by Wednesday afternoon around 3 p.m.

Newton County voted Monday to continue a disaster declaration issued last Thursday. The county has experienced infrastructure damage that made many road impassable.

Joe Myers, Orange County Emergency Management public information officer, said the county is not expecting any more evacuations at this time, but there is always the possibility that could change.

For areas north of I-10, the flood is record-breaking. Not since 1884 has the Sabine reached the levels expected Wednesday when the river crests, Andy Tingler, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles office, said.

South of 1-10 in Orange, the record was set with Ike at 9.86 feet above sea level. Wednesday’s levels are expected to reach 7.5 feet above sea level.

“This is a very large event with widespread flooding. The water is Orange still has to rise another 3 feet.,” Tingler said.

Mike Bearden, 41, of Orange, was among those watching the damage already caused by floodwaters, and anticipating how much worse it will get.

Bearden is treasurer of the Orange Yacht Club’s board of directors.

“We are expecting 3 feet of water inside the Yacht Club,” he said while standing on the water’s edge near the road.

“The parking lots sometimes floods, but never anything like this, except of Ike,” he said. “This is going to cost quite a bit. We’ll be down at least a month, but yesterday we gutted it, got everything out.

In the heart of Orange’s Cove area, Mike Neel, 71, of Deweyville was passing the time with friends at Burkart’s Marina while hoping he could go back home by Wednesday.

Neel described the flooding going on in his hometown, and how it surprised him.

“Saturday night there was no water on my property. Yesterday morning I stepped out of my trailer, out the door into knee-deep water,” he said.

While trying to flee the area, Neel said he got stuck on the road and was rescued by the National Guard.

“The National Guard, the Highway Patrol, the deputy sheriff’s, they are all there and won’t let people back. The streets are flooded, all over Highway 12 and everything,” he said.

While Neel was at relaxing on the banks of Adams Bayou, others were watching floodwaters surround their businesses.

For Oscar and Sonia LeBlanc, owners of the Bluebird Fish camp on Simmons Drive, the water Monday was already a couple of feet deep and threatening to get inside the building.

“I’ve lived here all my life and never seen anything like this except for Ike,” Sonia LeBlanc said. “Last night you could still see the benches, but today they are covered up. We’ve been out here for three hours just watching the water rise.”

“Yeah, it’s terrible, I know. It’s pretty bad, and going to get worse before its all over,” Oscar LeBlanc said.

While Orange and areas north were expected to bear the brunt of the Sabine River floodwaters, people south of the river in Bridge City were on the alert.

There, flooded marshes and bayous swollen from the Sabine River downfall were expected to result in flooding in low lying places.

“During Ike, it was up to the handrail on the back porch,” Stewart Edwards, 88, said while watching floodwaters encroach on his Adams Bayou lawn. Already, the water covered his pier.

“We were planning on going to Mississippi, but I told my wife things were not working out just right, so lets stay and watch the flood waters,” he said. “Right now we are on a wait and see, but if it gets too bad, then we’ll go to Pascagoula to stay with her daughter just like we did during Ike.”

Further south, the NWS said Jefferson County and Western Calcasieu Parrish should not expect severe flooding, but could see some water over roadways in low-lying areas.

“Areas along Sabine Lake will flood as the marshes fill up,” Tingler said. “The water in some spots along I-10 is only a foot or so away from I-10 and is expected to get worse. There may be spots where the marshes back up onto the road between Bridge City and Port Arthur.”

Tingler said it was difficult to gauge what the floodwaters would do.

“Since we have never been faced with this amount of water coming down from the Sabine, we have never had this before, and it makes it difficult to forecast,” Tingler said.

Though rain is back in the forecast for the second half of this week, Tingler said it should have minimal effect on the flooding.

“By the time it gets here, the peak of the flood will already be pushing off to the north, Tingler said.


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