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Life along the Mississippi: Waiting and watching as the river rises

The US Army Corps of Engineers may open the Morganza Floodway to divert the surging Mississippi away from larger metropolitan areas. The clock is ticking for Stephensville, like most small towns located along backwater tributaries.

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Residents in the tiny Louisiana hamlet of Stephensville fill sandbags in preparation for a rise in water as the swelling Mississippi River surges south, flooding backwater tributaries.

Mark Guarino

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Here in this tiny hamlet crisscrossed by bayous and one-story ranch homes, neighbors gather on the corner to talk, children take a break to splash in the water, and an elderly couple watches from their porch swing.

The scene would be like any other lazy afternoon - but for the frantic sandbagging. It’s been going on for five days, ever since Stephenville, and other communities that trail below Baton Rouge into the Gulf of Mexico, learned that the US Army Corps of Engineers may open the Morganza Floodway to divert surging water from the Mississippi River away from larger metropolitan areas including New Orleans and stream it into the Atchafalaya Basin, which leads to the Gulf.

The decision to finally open the Morganza came late Friday afternoon. Corps officials said the opening is expected to prevent river water from rising no higher than 17 feet in New Orleans. Without the use of the Morganza, high water is expected to crest at 19.5 feet, just six inches from the top of the city’s levee and floodwall system.

The clock is ticking for Stephensville, like most small towns located along the backwater tributaries of the Morganza.

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