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Evacuations In Texas & Louisiana, Levee Work Continues In Arkansas

May 13, 1990

Undated (AP) _ Flooding forced more residents of low-lying areas to pack up and leave Sunday in Texas and Louisiana, and county jail prisoners and volunteers labored to reinforce levees with sandbags in Arkansas.

A steady, heavy downpour compounded the flood threat in Louisiana and flooded streets throughout the New Orleans area.

Record flooding continued in Texas, where 7,000 people had been urged to leave low communities along the Trinity River. The swollen Red River continued to put pressure on levees in Arkansas and its flood crest threatened communities downstream in Louisiana. Oklahoma flood victims have begun cleaning up, except around gorged Lake Texoma.

The leading edge of the flood crest on the Trinity had reached Lake Livingston, north of Houston. Liberty County officials said Sunday that water was pouring over the reservoir’s spillway at a rate of 50,000 cubic feet of water per second, more than twice normal.

Liberty County Judge Dempsie Henley said officials expect the flow to double by Tuesday. He issued an evacuation warning, urging 7,000 residents of communities downstream from the lake’s dam to pack up and leave. Many roads in the area were already under water.

Downstream at the town of Liberty, northeast of Houston, John Burch and his family frantically packed clothes and supplies Sunday. They worked standing in water to avoid the many fire ants driven to high ground by water.

″It hit us hard last year and it’s going to be worse this year,″ said Burch, 32. ″Last year, I lost my home and I’ve got my trailer 3 feet higher than it was last year, but I expect to lose it again.″

Burch said his father’s trailer is right on the bank of the Trinity. He said his father, who doesn’t want to leave until the last minute, awoke to find water a foot deep around his home.

″It doesn’t bother me,″ said Bay Burch, 70. ″If it gets to where I get my feet wet, I’ll leave,″

But his 64-year-old wife, Violet Burch, said he was depressed about losing their possessions. Last July, they lost a back bedroom of their trailer to flood damage and had to replace walls, floors, furniture and clothing.

″We don’t have so much, and he don’t want to lose it,″ she said.

Along the Texas-Oklahoma border, on the headwarters of the Red River, only one highway in the Lake Texoma area remained closed Sunday by record flooding that one week earlier had nearly cut Marshall County off from the rest of the world. The lake, which had dropped nearly 5 feet by Sunday, had crested about 27 feet above normal and flooded homes and cabins and lakeshore recreation facilities.

In southwestern Arkansas, Miller County prisoners joined volunteers and county personnel in sandbagging operations near the Red River city of Garland.

″The levee had two major leaks Friday and Saturday but they’ve been repaired and they are expected to hold,″ said Gary Talley of the state Office of Emergency Services. ″The water is flowing under the levee and bubbling up on the other side. They’re trying to stack sandbags to try to keep it contained but can’t get sandbags where they’re needed because they can’t get trucks in there.″

Officials asked that a borrowed Texas National Guard helicopter be diverted from hauling feed to cattle stranded by high water so it could be used to haul sandbags to Garland.

The Red River at Garland was expected to rise a half-foot or more because of heavy rain in the area Saturday, Talley said. If the levee breaks, about 250 to 300 homes would be affected in the town of 660, he said.

In neighboring Hempstead County, dynamite experts cleared trees in the river to enable a National Guard barge to help feed and evacuate stranded cattle from islands of high ground along the river.

In nearby northeastern Texas, just north of Texarkana, emergency authorities pronounced the danger from the Red River at bay Sunday and said if no more rain falls in the coming days, the area will be out of danger by Tuesday or Wednesday. The river had dropped 2 feet since cresting Wednesday.

But Texarkana Civil Defense spokesman Norman Greer said between 50 and 100 National Guardsmen continued Sunday to inspect the levees, which were waterlogged and precariously soft.

″We’re not letting anybody walk on them because the least little thing can set them to rolling,″ Greer said.

Downstream on the Red River in Louisiana, up to 600 square miles of land is expected to flood this week and next, and up to a third of that will be farmland, Sen. Bennett Johnston said Sunday.

″It will be a major agricultural disaster. It’ll be a flood event such as we have not experienced since 1945,″ the Louisiana Democrat said after meeting with Army Corps of Engineers officials.

The river will flood winter wheat fields ready for harvest, and soybean fields will be too wet to plant until June at least, Johnston said. Up to 500 homes and camps between the levees and the river will be inundated, he said.

The river hit flood stage - 32 feet - Saturday in Alexandria and was expected to rise an additional 10 feet before cresting on May 21. Rising water had already forced several dozen people to leave homes in surrounding Rapides Parish, said civil defense director Bill Godron.

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