Darkness still hung around downtown Orange at 6 a.m. March 16, 2016. The temperature was a warm 72 and cool water was still spreading as the Sabine River overflowed its banks in a historic flood. Fog filled some of the streets in the Old Orange Historic District. The street lights glowed like yellow sunshine with rays extended. The brightness reflected off the water-filled streets and the wall of fog. No sounds could be heard.
The quietness of the moment was a break in the hurried pace in the previous days. The Sabine River had a record flood in March 2016, inundating Deweyville. On the 16th, the river peaked in Deweyville at 33.24 feet, nearly 10 feet above the flood level of 24 feet.
The 2016 Sabine River Flood is a weather disaster now etched in people’s memories. The National Weather Service reports it began with a system knows as the Maya Express bringing waves of moist tropical air northward. Early in March, 18 to 20 inches or more of rain fell in East Texas north of Toledo Bend Reservoir.
As the rain drained into the river, the water flowed downstream. The Sabine River Authority, which operates the Toledo Bend Dam for electrical generators, opened all nine gates to the full 22 feet. A rush of 208,000 cubic feet of water per second rushed out, more than double the amount coming off Niagara Falls. The nine gates were open wide for 31 hours.
Rising water along the Sabine affected 20 counties in East Texas. Orange County called for an evacuation of everyone living east of Highway 87. Orange asked everyone east of the railroad tracks to leave. Pinehurst and West Orange also called for evacuations of people living along Adams Bayou, though houses in those two towns did not flood.
For the first time since Interstate 10 was built, the Texas and Louisiana transportation departments closed the highway because of flooding. Traffic between the two states had to be diverted all the way northward to Longview because so many bridges were flooded.
The Little Cypress east of Highway 87 flooded on March 15. People living west of Highway 87 also found themselves affected as the water kept rising in places never seen before.
The flooding brought wild animals into neighborhoods. Feral hogs were seen in numerous neighborhoods and even in downtown. Balls of red fire ants throbbed as they floated on water.
The river peaked in Orange at 7.6 feet, with flood stage 4 feet. The worst flooding was in Cypress Bayou, Brownwood, Navy Park, East Orange and Cove.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-