Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Great Flood of 2011 (Part V)

Mississippi River flooding crest is yet
to come

Written by Molly Parker11:11 PM, May. 11, 2011|

GREENVILLESabrina Trowell lives on Booker Street about two streets back from the levee. She makes a daily trek up the walkway to the top of the hill that provides a view of the bloated river and several submerged casino parking lots.

"God says his mercy and his grace is sufficient so we have to keep faith and trust in God's word even as the river rises," Trowell said.

Many in Greenville grew up hearing tales of the Great Flood of 1927, adding to the angst as the river rises. The Mississippi River mainline levee broke about 20 miles to the north and the city was submerged.

But 84 years later, officials say the levees are secure and most of the town should stay dry, with the exception of some 100 homes along Lake Ferguson, on the water side of the levee. Almost all of the residents there have been evacuated.

"I think they've seen pictures and get
worried when the water goes up," said Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board.

He's been having some sleepless nights himself, but was confident Wednesday that, if the river's crest stays within projected ranges, the levees will hold.

Early this week a structural issue caused by a sand boil, a natural occurrence in high-water events, on the mainline levee near Rosedale was addressed and the Corps of Engineers completed an extensive project reinforcing the Yazoo Backwater Levee on Tuesday.

"Last night, I slept like a baby," Nimrod said.

Trowell, though, can't help but worry. Her aunt, Carolyn Watson, said for days she has been eyeballing the water's growth by its reach on a sign on once-dry land. It was gone Wednesday, she said.

The same day, forecasters raised
Greenville's projected Monday crest by six inches, to 65 feet. "We know we have to prepare for the worst," Trowell said.

Greenville doesn't have it good, by any stretch. Three casinos have been closed, business have reported 800 people are out of work, and all public and private terminals at the Port of Greenville have been shut down to barge traffic, affecting businesses that rely on maritime activity, Greenville officials reported.

But many areas have a lot more to worry about as the crest pushes southward from Memphis.

"There's a lot of reason to be concerned," Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday after touching down at the Greenville airport accompanied by other federal and state officials fresh off a tour of the Mississippi River that started just below Memphis.

But he said, "there's no reason for anybody to lose their life in this because we've had days and days and days of warning and the crest still isn't here."

He urged people who know high waters are coming to seek shelter immediately on higher ground.

Washington County, where Greenville is located, and 13 other affected counties were declared eligible for individual assistance by President Obama on Wednesday. The other counties included in the major disaster declaration are Adams, Bolivar, Claiborne, Coahoma, DeSoto,
Jefferson, Humphreys, Issaquena, Sharkey, Tunica, Warren, Wilkinson and Yazoo.

Barbour urged those in the path of the flood to make use of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which can be reached at 1-800-621-3362.

Currently, the biggest issue associated with the rising Mississippi River is backwater flooding, even in areas such as Desoto County and the lower Delta, Barbour said. The hope is that backwater flooding doesn't go from bad to catastrophic.

The worse-case scenario is a breach of the Yazoo Backwater Levee that could put several communities under water, such as Rolling Fork, Cary, Mayersville and Hollandale. That would require the evacuation of thousands of people, he said.

"Because there is a tiny chance - and it's better to be prepared than to expect to get lucky - we're going to deploy National Guard in this area that essentially is below Highway 12 that runs from Hollandale to
Belzoni all the way down west of the Will Whittington (auxiliary channel) and below that in the area of southern Sharkey County," Barbour said.

Barbour and Nimrod both said they are optimistic the fix will hold the levee.

Over a four-mile stretch, from the end of the mainline levee north of Vicksburg to the Steele Bayou structure, the Corps of Engineers placed a thick layer of plastic-like material on the land-side slope of the Yazoo Backwater Levee. The goal is to prevent or diminish erosion by slowing
down the water that is guaranteed to roll over the top.


Also of concern is an area of the Delta - Barbour described it as "quite a substantial piece of real estate" - that is without levee protection. Even if all the levees hold, property along an eastern strip of the Will Whittington auxiliary channel will see water elevation 107 feet above sea level, Barboursaid, putting some folks under water from Warren County to southern Holmes County.

That's not news to Jack Phillips. He built his house at 106.5 feet, more than a foot above the 100-year flood plain requirement. Six months ago he started building a house on U.S. 49 West outside of Yazoo City.

He was going to move in this weekend. Instead, he was putting the finishing touches on the 4 1/2-foot dirt-bag levee he built around his home.

A farmer who grows mostly soybeans and cotton, Phillips expects to lose 70 percent of his crops.

As he worked with the help of some hired hands, the Broad Lake, filled with backwater from the Yazoo River, continued to creep its way toward his backyard. The lake is rising roughly two feet per day and is expected to reach his levee this weekend.

"It's very unfortunate, but I don't know what else to do," he said. "Worse things have happened. Worse things will happen."

He has flood insurance. He plans to come back. But many do not and the financial hit will be hard in the unprotected Delta areas guaranteed to see water. "There will be a lot of broken dreams and hearts in this area," Phillips said.

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