La. floodgate opens, diverting Mississippi River

MORGANZA, La. — The Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from a spillway along the rising Mississippi River in Louisiana, diverting water into the countryside in hopes of avoiding a potentially bigger disaster in heavily populated areas downstream.

A gate at the Morganza spillway was raised Saturday afternoon for the first time in 38 years. The water came out slowly at first, then began gushing like a waterfall.

About 3,000 square miles of land known for small farms and fish camps could wind up under as much as 25 feet of water.

However, officials say the move will ease pressure on levees protecting New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and oil refineries and chemical plants downstream. Engineers feared weeks of pressure could cause the levees to fail, swamping New Orleans with as much as 20 feet of water.

Mary Foster and Melinda Deslatte/The Associated Press