Guardsmen in Louisiana continue battle along state's waterways
May 16, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 16, 2011) -- The Louisiana National Guard is out in force to assist in building levees, providing security and searching for "sand boils" that threaten levee integrity, as flooding along the state's waterways threaten property and lives there.
More than 25 Louisiana National Guard members from the 769th Engineer Battalion have spent the last 10 days walking portions of the 72 miles of levee that protect Concordia Parish residents from the brimming Mississippi river in search of sand boils and seepage.
A sand boil occurs when water, under pressure on one side of a levee, pushes through weak spots in the ground until it finds release on the other side. Some sand boils produce clear water, which is an indication that as the water moves from one side of the levee to the other through a "pipe" in the ground, it is not carving out sand and silt.
Sand boils that produce cloudy water are carving out an even larger channel under the levee -- which threatens the integrity of the protective structure.
Working 24 hours a day in 11-to-12-hour shifts, teams of Guard members traverse swampy areas in chest waders, yielding machetes for protection against snakes and other wildlife, in search of sand boils that, if left unattended, could weaken the levee.
"[The team] projected they walked five miles today," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Pino, noncommissioned officer in charge of the project. "That's through mud, water and in chest waders."
A student at Southern University majoring in computer science, Pvt. Desmond Grove of Baton Rouge moved through the water with intense concentration, trying to differentiate between the natural current of the water and a possible sand boil; a mission that can be challenging, but important, Grove said.
"It is significant when you find one because you can see the potential damage of what it can become," said Grove. "I've seen one go from the size of a dime to the size of a baseball overnight. They have a tendency to expand very rapidly."
In Concordia Parish, 45 sand boils have been marked and reported to the Army Corps of Engineers, who then make determinations for further action. To date, the Louisiana National Guard has identified about 100 sand or pin boils in northeast Louisiana.
"Sand boils can possibly weaken the integrity of the levee," said Vernon Smith, a 35-year veteran at the USACE's Vidalia office. He said having the Guard out looking in the areas that have historically supported sand boils has eased the burden on his shoulders.
"They are my eyes in the field. They are covering territory I couldn't cover by myself," he said. "I have nothing but praise for what they have done for me."
The flow of a sand boil can be slowed by building a barricade around it. When water fills in the barricade, the water pressure is equalized and slows the flow of water.
South of Concordia Parish, along the Atchafalaya River, Guardsmen in Krotz Springs, La., continued to assist state and parish officials with building levees and providing traffic security.
Louisiana Guardsmen there have been preparing an improved levee that will total about 10,000 linear feet of sand-filled HESCO baskets and "super bags."
Liaison officer for the project, Sgt. 1st Class Lloydd Martin of the 756th Area Support Medical Company in Carville, says the goal is to build a solid wall to provide a secondary barrier for more than 240 homes, a power substation and refinery.
"When it comes to this response, it's a Soldier mission -- a Guard mission," said Martin regarding the support to citizens and local authorities.
The support from the community has been a huge asset in accomplishing the mission, said Martin.
"They have really gone out of their way to be courteous to us, all the while protecting our homes," said Jannette Ellis, a resident of the community. "I can't say 'thank you' enough to these guys."
The Guard's military police also assisted state police with traffic control points before and during the opening of the Morganza Spillway to ensure citizens were safe and informed of the event.
Spc. Seth Henderson, a member of the 239th Military Police Company in Carville, said their security mission is to assist not only the local authorities, but the citizens as well, with directions and providing information.
"Being able to help out people I know, people from my community, it's why I joined the National Guard," said Henderson, a native of St. Francisville.
"The Louisiana National Guard has been very instrumental in the past few days preparing this area with levee inspections, barrier construction and traffic control," said Nancy Allen of the Corps of Engineers. "We are just grateful for all the help."