Nightly News   |  May 13, 2011

Despite dire flood predictions, a vow to remain

As they await the rush of Mississippi River waters that will flood their neighborhoods when the Morganza Spillway is opened to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans, residents of Terrebonne Parish are rallying to defend their homes. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: The Mississippi River reached an all-time record level today, a massive amount of water heading south after doing so much damage already. Now all eyes between Baton Rouge , Louisiana and New Orleans , are on a big spillway, and if it's opened tomorrow, as it looks like it will be, that relieves the pressure on the city of New Orleans , where, by the way, Mayor Mitch Landrieu is standing by to talk to us tonight. But that decision will also flood out other folks in other places which are right now bustling and prosperous communities and homes and businesses. A million people are now in the path of this water. It's already roared through seven states. Our coverage begins here tonight with Anne Thompson . She's in the Port of Baton Rouge tonight. Anne , good evening.

ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Brian . Here at the Port of Baton Rouge and throughout southern Louisiana , they are -- everyone is working so hard because there is no time left to lose with the Mississippi River rising and the imminent opening of the Morganza Spillway , which could send water rushing into an area at a rate of two million gallons per second. These are desperate hours in Terrebonne Parish . Residents wait in long lines for supplies to defend their homes from the Mississippi River water that will flood their neighborhoods when the Morganza Spillway is opened to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans . Cold comfort to Leroy Mayes , trying to protect his house.

Mr. LEROY MAYES: We're poor people , and I'm not agreeable in opening that gate up. No, I'm not agreeing with that.

THOMPSON: Up river in Vicksburg , Mississippi , Highway 61 , a main thoroughfare, is closed so crews can build a levee to keep the water at bay. Farmer Everett Deer is doing the same, using dirt from his cornfield to construct a 19-foot wall of mud around his house.

Mr. EVERETT DEER: I don't have flood insurance , so I've got to try to save it, you know.

THOMPSON: In Baton Rouge , neon-colored tiger dams are rolled out to protect Louisiana 's capital city . But 10 percent of the state's onshore oil production is in the flood zone, more than 2200 wells that produce 19,000 barrels of oil a day, a drop in the bucket compared to the 19 million barrels America consumes each day, but enough to unsettle a jittery oil market.

Mr. GIFFORD BRIGGS (Louisiana Oil and Gas Association Vice President): There's a lot of tension in the oil markets. And any dis -- any disruption, no matter how small, has the potential to affect pricing, without question.

THOMPSON: As more dirty water heads south, there are growing concerns about the hidden toxins in the debris, health threats that won't become known for years. Yet, for all the dire predictions, among resilient Louisianians like Randy Budreaux , you can still hear the sound of optimism.

Mr. RANDY BUDREAUX: We are completely surrounded by levees. We have good pumping stations. I have to feel good that the parish itself can handle all this.

THOMPSON: Now, there are some 125 gates in the Morganza Spillway , and the Army Corps of Engineers says it only plans to open about half of them, and Louisiana 's governor says the corps will do so slowly. Even so, Governor Jindal tonight is urging people who live in the spillway area to activate

their evacuation plans now. Brian: All I know is that water behind you, Anne , is moving really fast. Anne Thompson starting us off, Port of Baton Rouge , tonight. Thanks.