Raging Mississippi River threatens everything in its path

Will opening two Louisiana spillways divert enough water to save cities in the Mississippi River’s path?

ALEXANDRIA, La, 05/10/11 –Growing up on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, one learns a healthy respect for the havoc this mighty waterway can wreak on towns and cities that exist near its banks.

William Jefferson rides about around his Vicksburg, Miss. neighborhood Tuesday, May 10, 2011. Jefferson's house was under at least 3 feet water, as were dozens of other homes in the neighborhood. (Image: Associated Press)

William Jefferson rides about around his Vicksburg, Miss. neighborhood Tuesday, May 10, 2011. Jefferson’s house was under at least 3 feet water, as were dozens of other homes in the neighborhood. (Image: Associated Press)

The Mississippi is not a typical waterway; it never has been. The “Mighty Mississippi,” as it’s often called, flows from Minnesota to Louisiana, stretches some 2,320 miles, and traverses the continental United States like a huge vertical gash, cut deep into in our nation’s mid-section by Mother Nature.

Today, that gash isn’t just bleeding; it’s hemorrhaging trillions of tons of water that threatens lives, livelihoods and vast wildlife communities. Extremely heavy spring rains, coupled with unusually heavy snow melt, have caused this enormous river to swell, and with no place else to go, the rising water has surged upward—and over the river’s banks. Thousands of homes and communities now sit completely or partly submerged.

Over the past few weeks, states, cities and towns have enacted emergency measures in an effort to stem the damage. Some efforts have worked, some have failed, and some are yet to be tested.

People gather to look at opened bays on the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco, La., Monday, May 9, 2011. The spillway, which the Army Corps of Engineers built about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in response to the great flood of 1927, last opened during the spring 2008. Monday marked the 10th time it has been opened since the structure was completed in 1931. The spillway diverts water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. (Image: Associated Press)

People gather to look at opened bays on the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco, La., Monday, May 9, 2011. The spillway, which the Army Corps of Engineers built about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in response to the great flood of 1927, last opened during the spring 2008. Monday marked the 10th time it has been opened since the structure was completed in 1931. The spillway diverts water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. (Image: Associated Press)

As the flood surge flows southward, city after city is being drowned under the onslaught. This is a slow-motion catastrophe: The damage is spreading and is far from over. Downstream, closer to the point where the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico, everyone is very much aware that their communities still lie in harm’s way.

They know that they are next, and they’re working desperately to do everything they can to protect their families, their homes, and their businesses.

The Flood Control Act of 1928 allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create and implement programs to control floods along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Spillways, which serve as a critical component of flood control, are huge channels designed to divert water away from the Mississippi River and into nearby areas. In the case of New Orleans, water gets diverted into Lake Pontchartrain. Today, the Bonnet Carre and the Morganza Spillways serve as huge channels to divert floodwaters and relieve levee pressure. 

In New Orleans, indications are that the river will not crest until May 23. As a preventative measure, Louisiana officials recently opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway. Discussions continue on whether to open the Morganza Spillway, located to the west of Baton Rouge. While this may help communities downstream on the Mississippi, it could also leave areas near the spillway under 25 feet of water. 

 

Louisiana National Guardsmen use machinery to fill Hesco baskets with sand to protect residential neighborhoods in preparation of impending flooding from the likely diversion of Mississippi River floodwaters into the Atchafalaya Basin, in Morgan City, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011. (Image: Associated Press)

Louisiana National Guardsmen use machinery to fill Hesco baskets with sand to protect residential neighborhoods in preparation of impending flooding from the likely diversion of Mississippi River floodwaters into the Atchafalaya Basin, in Morgan City, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011. (Image: Associated Press)

For frequent updates, go to the New Orleans Times-Picayune website. Mark Schleifstein, the Times-Picayune’s environmental reporter, offers a short, extremely informative video on NOLA.com, on the status of the Mississippi River and spillway activities.

Right now, all that individuals and private organizations can do is distribute help to people whose homes, lives and businesses have already been affected. For those whose turn is yet to come, we can only wait to see what happens.

The hope here is that the opening of the spillway(s) will divert enough water to reduce pressure on the levees and keep the remaining cities from flooding. If the spillways cannot provide enough relief, the resulting damage will be vast and catastrophic.

The clock is ticking—and on May 23rd, we’ll know whether we’ve done enough, soon enough. Until then, we can only wait, watch and pray.

Out and About Louisiana will continue to report events as they unfold.

Carla is the author of four published suspense novels, and her latest book,  Artful Misdirection, is currently available in Kindle format on Amazon.com. Read more of her work at Out and About Louisiana in the Washington Times Communities.



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Carla Ledbetter

Carla Ledbetter has three published suspense novels under the name C D Ledbetter and is a contributing author to several short story anthologies.  In addition, she currently serves as the Director of Web Content for Cenla Advantage Partnership, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building prosperity in Central Louisiana, funded in part by The Rapides Foundation.

 

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