LAKE ARTHUR — Fearing that levees holding back the rain-swollen Mermentau River would fail, officials have called for a voluntary evacuation of Lake Arthur and set a mandatory curfew.
“The biggest thing I can do now is ask everyone to be prepared right now,” Mayor Robbie Bertrand told more than 500 people attending an emergency town hall meeting Saturday.
Bertrand and parish and state officials called for a voluntary evacuation of the town and issued a mandatory curfew of 10 p.m.-6 a.m. as a levee breach threatens areas along the Mermentau River. People are also warned not to sightsee.
“To say who will be impacted and how bad it will be is hard to say,” he said. “Let’s all hope this isn’t as bad as it could be. We haven’t seen anything like this in a long time, but we know from the past what can happen.”
The lake is 4-6 inches from breaching the levees — which is more water than the town saw during Hurricane Rita, Bertrand said.
He said the town has received a tremendous amount of rain, including an additional foot Friday night.
“The town and Broadmore Gravity Drainage District is doing all it can to keep the water out of the town,” he said.
He said officials will continue to pump as long as they can to try to keep the streets open, homes safe and the sewer system working.
Town crews have also been working to clear culverts and dig out ditches.
Sandbags have been placed in areas to try to keep the water out, and pumps have been running almost continuously since the rain began last Monday, filling area waterways and ditches.
At least one home on McClure Street reported water inside as of Saturday, and the residents had been evacuated, Police Chief Cheryl Vincent said.
“Right now our flood control structures are high and dry, but the concern is that the Mermentau River hasn’t crested yet,” he said.
The upper level of the Mermentau River is expected to crest at 9.5 feet today, Jonathan Brazzell of the National Weather Service said. The crest forecast will be similar to the flood of 1972, but higher than 2004, he said.
“We could see a half a foot to another foot of water in the lake, and that’s a problem in town and for our three main drainage arteries,” he said.
The backwaters will also create problems for the town’s sewer system, flood streets and threaten some homes, he said.
On Saturday, he urged residents to raise or move their furniture, place sandbags around doors and seek shelter from friends and family.
Self-fill sandbags are available at the Lake Arthur Police Department. Sand is available at the Community Center on Eighth Street and the small ballpark next to Lake Arthur Park. The limit is 20 bags per person.
Sheriff Ivy Woods and U.S. Coast Guard officials said a safety zone has been implemented to restrict boat traffic from the Intracoastal Waterway to the La. 14 bridge. Boat traffic is also restricted parishwide, including on the Mermentau River and Lacassine Bayou.