Louisiana prepares to open spillway, flood Cajun country to spare cities

LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. (AP) - Army engineers are preparing to slowly open the gates of an emergency spillway along the rising Mississippi River.

That will divert floodwaters from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but inundate homes and farms in parts of Louisiana's populated Cajun country. About 25,000 people and 11,000 structures could be in harm's way when the Morganza spillway is unlocked for the first time in 38 years.

Sheriffs and National Guardsmen going door-to-door in the area warning people of the impending flood. Gov. Bobby Jindal is telling area residents, "that water's coming" and "now's the time to evacuate." He says shelters are ready to accept up to 4,800 evacuees.

Opening the spillway will release a torrent that could submerge 3,000 square miles under as much as 25 feet of water. The move is designed to take the pressure off the downstream levees protecting New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)