AASHTO Journal, 19 August 2016
Heavy rains and historic flooding of swollen rivers and creeks closed hundreds of roads in southern Louisiana over the past week – including sections of interstate highways – leading to on-road rescues and many drivers abandoning their vehicles.
Several days after the floods began, they had left a reported 30,000 evacuated by rescue from homes and roads, thousands in shelters or seeking housing and 13 reported dead.
A Red Cross official said that organization had activated its largest sheltering effort in Louisiana since Hurricane Isaac in 2012. And since most of the impact was in areas that don’t typically flood, he said “the Red Cross is mobilizing a massive relief effort which could be our largest since Hurricane Sandy” devastated the Northeast, also in 2012.
A day after heavy rains struck on Aug. 11, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a statewide disaster. President Obama issued a disaster declaration Aug. 14 that would pave the way for federal funding for the affected areas.
By Aug. 15, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development said more than 280 state roads were closed due to higher water, including parts of Interstates 12 and 10, plus U.S. highways.
The agency posted scores of photos on its Facebook site, including the one here showing abandoned vehicles at Exit 6 of I-12 in Baton Rouge with a boat carrying several people on what would normally be the exit lane.
On Aug. 18 the USDOT made $2 million available from a federal emergency fund to help Louisiana repair roads and bridges, stabilize structures to prevent further damage, and set up detours until permanent repairs are completed.
“The situation in Louisiana is critical, with tens of thousands evacuated from their homes and cut off from vital transportation links,” said USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This natural disaster has been reported to be the worst to hit our nation since Super-storm Sandy – and many residents still face life-threatening conditions. We are doing everything we can at the USDOT to help.”
The DOTD had to close so many roads in southern Louisiana that it was running out of warning sides and barricades to keep vehicles away from swamped lanes. It activated crews in its northwest district to assemble more road barricades and signs for closures or high water, to send to Lafayette in the flood zone.
Although by week’s end the LaDOTD had reopened closed sections of interstate highways, it had no time frame for when all roads would reopen. The experience of highway agencies with heavy floods shows that it often takes at least days and in some cases weeks just to assess all the damage. Actual repairs can take months.