Aug. 15, 2016 01:34 PM

Flood waters soak the parking lot of the Acadian Cultural Center, which narrowly avoided waters rising around it thanks to its high ground construction.
photo by Travis Gauthier

Levees at Vermilionville and the Bayou Vermilion District, which manages tourism and conservation for the bayou, are still under water from the weekend’s historic flooding. The 16 foot levees cannot be pumped until the river reverts to its natural, south-flowing course and recedes from its current crest at a foot and half above the levee’s breach.

“We need a northerly wind right now pretty bad and I don’t think that’s in the forecast,” says David Cheramie, Bayou Vermilion District’s chief executive officer.

The Vermilion is racing north, aided by winds out of the south, at six times the river’s typical rate of current according to Cheramie. Once the river flows south again, dumping its overflow into the Vermilion Bay, Cheramie expects it could take 24 to 36 hours for the bayou’s flood waters to return below the levee line, and an additional 24 to 36 hours of round-the-clock pumping to evacuate the flood completely. Diesel fuel will be brought in the by the barrel to keep the pumps running, says Cheramie, as they currently don’t have enough reserve fuel to run the pumps long enough to force the water out.

Vermilionville’s collection of historic Acadiana cottages and the BVD’s bayou operations stores remain flooded over while employees and volunteers attempt to salvage and rescue records, water samples and electronics. Cheramie and his team arrived by canoe this morning, parking their cars at higher ground by the National Guard armory nearby.

The dock that launches the BVD’s tourism boat ripped off in the violent river tide over the weekend, slamming in to the Surrey Street bridge at the other end of Vermilionville, according to Cheramie. He reports that other BVD boats strapped to trailers took on water while anchored down, unable to float the rising waters.

Three sheep and a mule, acquired by Vermilionville in the last two weeks, were evacuated from their habitats to raised porches, where museum operations director Brady McKellar tended to and fed them overnight Saturday, the day which saw the heaviest crush of rain.

Also on site at the Vermilionville campus is office space rented to Louisiana Folks Root, which took on about a foot and a half of water according to director Todd Mouton. Mouton says the cultural preservation organization lost none of the valuable artifacts stored there, and has accounted for all personnel.

While low lying baseball fields and tennis courts remain flooded in Beaver Park, Cheramie says the Jean Lafitte Cultural Center and its collection of Acadian exhibits and artifacts was spared the flood’s rise, only taking water into the parking lot at a level reaching halfway up the center’s ground-sited sign.

Cheramie conservatively estimates that the wider Vermilionville area could be fully drained by Friday, at which point staff and volunteers will begin the arduous work of restoration and recovery for the historic village and bayou operations center.

“It is our goal to be an example of our ability to adapt, survive and thrive just as our ancestors did for hundreds of years,” Cheramie writes in a Facebook post. “Allons être forts!”

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