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In La., a waiting game as floodwaters creep nearer

Atchafalaya River basin towns had been told to expect the water last week.

BUTTE LAROSE, La. - The final holdouts had mostly packed up and left as water from the swollen Atchafalaya River inched toward their homes, their frustration and hope painted on signs outside their now-abandoned homes.

"Nothing left worth stealing," read one. "Stay strong. Believe," urged another. "Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are not. We will come HOME," are the words Kip and Gwen Bacquet spray-painted on the plastic liner that covers the entire first floor of their house.

Most had left Butte LaRose days earlier as the water continued its march toward the area. St. Martin Parish had ordered a mandatory evacuation to take effect Saturday, but then pushed it back at least two days after officials said the river would crest May 27 at a lower level than previously thought.

The delayed evacuation is likely to bring optimism and further frustration for residents who have heard the same grim forecast for days on end. Once the water comes, they may not be able to return for weeks. They'll have to wait until Monday for officials to decide whether to reinstate the evacuation order.

"It's probably a blessing for some, because maybe some people who didn't have time to do additional sandbagging will now have more time," said Maj. Ginny Higgins, a spokeswoman for the St. Martin's Parish Sheriff's Office.

The Bacquets moved their furniture and other belongings to the second floor of their home, nine feet off the ground. They are bracing for up to five feet of water to inundate their neighborhood. Gwen Bacquet, 54, said the canal in their backyard had been rising about 4 inches per day. Their pier already was underwater.

The couple moved to Butte LaRose last summer for a change of pace from their native Lafayette, a city of approximately 120,000 about 60 miles west of Baton Rouge. The Bacquets savored their final hours before evacuating by lounging on the deck overlooking the canal, sharing a few bittersweet laughs with two friends who had come to help.

"I'm probably numb," Gwen Bacquet said. "We still don't know what to expect."

Before leaving town, they planned for their last act: shutting off the electricity.

"Would the last people to leave Butte LaRose please turn out the lights?" Kip Bacquet joked.

Farther up the Atchafalaya River, St. Landry Parish imposed a mandatory evacuation last Sunday for several areas outside the ring levees protecting Krotz Springs and Melville. Hundreds of homes in all the evacuated areas are believed to be at risk of flooding.

Earlier forecasts had called for floodwaters to reach Butte LaRose less than two days after the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza floodway, north of Baton Rouge. The corps partially opened that floodway May 14, but the water it was diverting from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin still hadn't reached the town nearly a week later.

Upstream, in Vicksburg, Miss., residents were waiting for the Mississippi to recede. On Saturday, Chris Lynn used his small aluminum boat to travel about a mile to check on his father's house. The house sits on the riverbank atop a 15-foot mound, now an island in the murky water.

"It looks like the water has come down about 2 inches," Lynn said, grabbing his cellphone to call his 73-year-old father with the news. "That's good. The floor is starting to dry out."