By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
NEW ORLEANS — NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As rain followed rain in southwest Louisiana, crawfish farmers saw their livestock swim over the levees around their ponds while fish swam in to feast on those remaining. Diagonally across the state, northeast Louisiana and west Mississippi residents were warned that freezing rain could make bridges and overpasses dangerous Monday.
The National Weather Service called a winter storm watch in the delta area of northeast Louisiana and west Mississippi. It covers northeast Louisiana to Delhi and Rayville, just north of Interstate 20, and crosses most of the delta to Interstate 55 at Grenada and Durant, said meteorologist Ed Agre of Jackson, Miss.
Freezing rain is likely to start around midmorning Monday and continue into the evening, the warning said.
"Even though a road may be passable, a bridge can ice quickly causing drivers to lose control quickly causing accidents and injuries," the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency cautioned.
"It is very important that our residents remain weather aware during the next 24 to 48 hours," said agency Director Robert Latham. "As is typical in our state, we could experience a wide variety of weather threats including winter weather, ice, flooding and severe thunderstorms."
Rain is in the forecast at least until Wednesday in the southwest and possibly into Thursday in southeast Louisiana and south Mississippi, meteorologists said.
It's not a warm rain — temperatures in southeast Louisiana dropped from the mid-70s to the mid-50s as a cold front moved through Sunday, said meteorologist Robert Ricks in Slidell, La.
Parts of southwest Louisiana got up to a foot of rain last week. And more was coming.
In the Jefferson Davis Parish town of Lake Arthur, Mayor Robert B. Bertrand suggested on Saturday that people in low-lying areas leave town. On Sunday, he said there was some street flooding and water in at least one house in an area along the lake, where water had come over the levees.
"There's water in yards along the lake but not in homes. It's not too bad as long as water doesn't continue to come up," he said. "Our pumps have kept the town mostly water-free."
Although more rain was likely, he said, "at least the wind's out of the north." South winds will push water farther up the streams and bayous, but a north wind will help push it out toward the Gulf of Mexico. "All it needs to do is go down two or three inches and we could all breathe a little easier."
Those south winds brought water higher than David Savoy of Church Point had ever seen it. "I've had water over the slab of the carport one time — one inch — and that was during a hurricane. I had water a foot deep over my carport this time," he said.
It also flooded about 35 percent of his crawfish ponds, which cover 1,700 acres. One problem, he said, is that crawfish do better in lower areas, which are the ones that flood first.
At one spot, he said, "I could have just scooped them out and filled a 5-gallon bucket with little crawfish, the size of my little finger, with one big scoop."
Those are just the crustaceans he'd hoped to harvest later in the year. Another big problem is that water high enough for crawfish to leave means that fish can swim in. "What we call gully perch, catfish, buffalo fish, garfish — all tend to swim over those levees," he said. "Buffalo fish as long as my arm get in on two inches of water.
"And they eat, man. They're in heaven. They'll eat until you have nothing left. And there's no way to get them out of there."
Stephen Minvielle, who farms 80 acres of crawfish in New Iberia and is director of the state Crawfish Research and Promotion Board, estimated that perhaps 10,000 to 25,000 of Louisiana's 250,000 acres of crawfish ponds were under water.
His own ponds were safe so far, he said, but about half of his two neighbors' 700 acres of ponds had been flooded.
"I put in extra time when I built them 12 years ago, and I'm glad I went that extra foot higher," he said.
Southeast Louisiana only got about a half-inch or so of rain by Sunday afternoon, meteorologist Phil Grigsby said. "We're expecting the rain to be a bigger issue tonight and tomorrow. The front's going to stall."
That could bring 1 to 2 inches of rain, possibly up to 3, in southeast Louisiana and south Mississippi, he said.