La. River Levees Under Heightened Watch

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has increased its surveillance of Louisiana's Mississippi River levees as the swollen river continues to rise.

The river is not expected to overrun or breach the levees, even though water levels are higher than they've been in a decade, Col. Alvin Lee, commander of the corps' New Orleans district office, said Sunday.

"We don't expect any problems in the (levee) system," he said.

Lee said engineers in Louisiana are monitoring the levees with seven-day work weeks and 12-hour shifts - new manpower levels triggered by a forecast that the river will crest in New Orleans at 17 feet on April 16. That forecast is 1 1/2 feet higher than previous predictions, the result of heavy rains throughout the river valley.

The levees were designed to contain at least 20 feet of water.

The corps could decide by Tuesday whether to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway, a safety valve about 30 miles north of New Orleans, to reduce the river's water volume and ease stress on the levees. The spillway was last opened in 1997, the last time river level forecasts were this high.

Lee spoke at a news conference called by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who said the state is using everything from the National Guard to the state health department to prevent possible flooding and prepare for it. Tens of thousands of sandbags have been distributed up and down the river.

Jindal said that though he had confidence in the levee system, the precautions are necessary because river level forecasts can change swiftly.


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