Sabine River residents: ‘You shouldn’t have to live in constant fear that your house is going to be flooded’

Published 4:38 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

People who live along the Sabine River and its tributaries in Southwest Louisiana and East Texas are keeping a close watch on the river. The water was up in low-lying areas, and early Tuesday morning, the Sabine River Authority opened the spillway gates another foot, for a total of three feet.

“We remember what happened during the March 2016 flooding,” said Larry Gibson Sr. “Nine Toledo Bend spillway gates opened to 22 feet within 24 hours. Over 200,000 cubic feet per second of water was released. Compare that with Niagra Falls that has 85,000 cubic feet per discharge.”

Gibson was at the Deweyville Bridge Boat Launch Tuesday waiting for the U.S. Geological Survey team out of Houston to get their readings used for modeling by Louisiana and Texas agencies.

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Earlier in the week, a logjam threatened the Deweyville-Stark Bridge, a national and state historic site and one of the oldest existing swing bridges in the U.S.

“For now, the water has dropped 21 or 22 inches,” Gibson said.

That might be enough; however, it takes two-and-a-half days for the water being released at Toledo – 70 miles away – to make an impact on Starks and Deweyville.

“There’s no way to be sure what’s going to happen and it keeps everybody on edge,” he said. “The tributaries are already full.”

Gibson said the SRA is supposed to release water before weather events, and they knew four weeks in advance of the 2016 flooding to release water but were more interested in keeping the water levels of the lake high for bass fishing tournaments.

“I know you can’t control what nature does, but you can use common sense to let water out of the dam when you know you’re going to get heavy rains.”

Before 2016, lake levels were kept at 168. Now the number is 172. Gibson said 168 provided optimal fishing conditions.

“You shouldn’t have to live in constant fear that your house is going to be flooded,” Gibson said. “Our family cemetery was under water early yesterday.”

 “A local resident got out of his car at the boat launch, threw his hands in the air after a look at the river and said, ‘I’m 11 feet off the ground, but I’ve got to get home because I’ve got stuff I’ve got to move. If it floods, that’s it for me. I’m outta here. I’ve had enough.’ ”

Gibson said the reason he’s been monitoring levels so closely is because of the speed in which an area can go from dry to flooded.

“So many people wait too late to prepare,” Gibson said.

Alice and Gerald McPherson were at the boat launch. He is in his 80s and has been in his home for 50 years — and he doesn’t plan to move. They can’t afford it, and at this time in their lives, they don’t want to. Gerald called another flood a “death knell.”

Bernice Grimes lives in Orange, Texas, and remembers the flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey.

“How can something so pretty be so dangerous,” she asks, shaking her head and looking out over a peaceful Sabine River – for now.