The people of Vicksburg, Mississippi, are very worried right now. They’ve done everything they can to protect their homes, so now all they can do is wait and see if it was worth it. The flood waters are rising quickly outside their makeshift dams. Will the structures hold?
Vicksburg is on the Mississippi side of the Yazoo River, which runs through both Mississippi and Louisiana. Recent heavy rains have washed over the small city, which has caused the Yazoo to fill up very quickly. The people who live in Vicksburg know it in their bones: there will be a lot of flooding.
The Yazoo is called the River of Death, which sounds pretty scary. It’s not clear where that title came from, but it could be a reference to the Yazoo tribe, which used to live in the area but was wiped out. On the other hand, the name could be a reference to how strong the river’s currents are, since they have killed more than a few people over the years.
Stations of panic
People who live in Vicksburg know more than most about the river’s reputation. So, you can imagine the panic that spread when it became clear that this latest round of rain was going to cause trouble. Flooding was becoming more and more likely, and everyone who lived in the area was in danger.
Something needed to be done quickly. People couldn’t just stand by and let the floodwaters destroy their homes and ways of making a living. No, they had to take a big step. They had to take care of things on their own. But how could they keep themselves safe from nature’s fury?
Well, there was really only one thing that the people could do. There was nothing that could be done to stop the water in the river from rising. Stopping it from raining was just as impossible, of course. That meant they couldn’t stop the flooding; all they could do was respond to it. They would have to protect their homes from the floods that they couldn’t stop.
Dirt and sand
The people in the town would have to build dams quickly out of whatever materials they could find. Anything they could find, like dirt or sand. They had to get as much stuff as they could and stack it high around their homes. And if they did it right, these dams might save them if they were built well.
Floods that broke records
All of this happened in 2011, which was a terrible year for Vicksburg. Even worse than the well-known floods of 1927, the flooding that year stood out. The Mississippi River, which the Yazoo flows into, reached a depth that has never been seen before since records began.
The Big Flood
To put things in perspective, it’s said that the 1927 Mississippi River flood was one of the worst natural disasters the U.S. has ever seen. The disaster, which happened in April 1927 and is sometimes called the “Great Flood of 1927,” caused a lot of damage to the land. There were a lot of deaths.
Rain for many months
The terrible disaster happened because the area had been getting a lot of rain for months. Because of this, the Mississippi River reached a level that had never been seen before. At some point, the water got too high, and one of the levees broke.
On April 16, that happened, but that was just the start. Five days later, a huge amount of pressure caused a second levee to break. It was too late to turn back, and in the days that followed, the river’s levee system started to fall apart. Things turned out very badly.
As soon as the water from the river started pouring out, it quickly flooded whole areas. People lost their homes, which in some cases were buried by up to 30 feet of water. It took many weeks to fully drain the area again, by which time a huge amount of damage had already been done.
More than 20,000 square miles of land were completely covered by floodwater. That meant that hundreds of thousands of people in the area were forced to leave their homes, and even more had trouble getting food and water. About 250 people died right away because of the flood.
People in charge of dealing with the flooding were later blamed for how badly they did their jobs. Some of the worst things said about them were that they were racist. Most of the people who worked on the plantations in the area were Black, and they had to help build up the levees along the river. But this forced work was done in horrible conditions.
After the flood, people from the African American community were also forced to work. They were told to help clean up, but they didn’t get enough money for their hard work. In fact, they didn’t even get the most basic things they needed, and one person was shot because he spoke out against it.
In the wake of the flood, the government did such a bad job that there was a big change in politics. A lot of African Americans started to switch from the Republican Party, which was in charge at the time, to the Democratic Party. Also, many black people from the South decided to move to cities in the north.
If the levee fails
The Mississippi River flood of 1927 also had a huge effect on culture. A lot of books, movies, and songs talk about the disaster. The song “When the Levee Breaks” may be the best-known one. That song was written by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy in 1929, and Led Zeppelin later made it famous by singing it.
History happens over and over
And, sadly for the people in the area, history happened all over again in 2011. The Mississippi River again overflowed its banks and caused a lot of damage to the area around it. It was an even worse disaster than what had happened in 1927, but this time some people were ready to take action.
The ideal storm
This flood, which only happens once every 100 years, was caused by heavy winter rains and snow that melted and added to the river. It was the perfect storm, and by April, the water level in the river was too high to be safe. So it was only a matter of time before something gave way.
The disasters of 1927 did teach the authorities some lessons, though, so at least they were better prepared for this one. Since then, a series of levees and spillway channels had been built, making it easier to predict where the floodwater would go than it would have been before. But that doesn’t mean that the area wouldn’t be hurt in any way.
Those who fell short
Again, tens of thousands of people had to leave their homes in order to get to safety. And again, some people didn’t get out in time. People died in the flood because they couldn’t get out of the way fast enough as the water rose. Also, huge areas of farmland were flooded.
Fears that some of Louisiana’s biggest cities would flood caused a lot of trouble. People left in huge numbers from places like New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and many important businesses had to close. Some refineries had to close for a while, which hurt the production of gasoline in particular.
Getting the drains open
The water was rising at a frighteningly fast rate, so it was time to use the spillways. The first one opened on May 9, a little north of New Orleans. And over the next few days, more joined them. It was hoped that taking these steps would save some of the big cities.
But there was only so much that could be done, and damage was going to happen anyway. Not only was it caused by the flooding itself, but it was also caused by other things. The damage to the economy was also big. For example, a major port in Natchez that was used to ship grain had to close. And coal exports from New Orleans were also hurt badly.
Farmlands were also left completely under water, which was a huge problem. Even though flooding can sometimes improve the quality of the soil, these events did far more harm than good. This is because the floodwaters went through farmland, which had dangerous chemicals that the floodwaters then spread around the area.
Taking a look at the damage
As May came to an end, relief slowly became clear. The water started to go down, so it was time to see how bad the damage was. Teams of experts were sent out by the government to check on people’s homes to see if they were still safe to live in. Sadly, a lot of them weren’t, but how did the properties in Vicksburg do?
A delicate position
Vicksburg was in a very dangerous spot because it is where the Mississippi River and its branch river, the Yazoo, meet. And that’s a pretty bad place to be after 2011’s record-breaking rains. As the rivers rose higher and higher, the water level in the ground got higher and higher.
Vicksburg’s people knew this was going to be bad. All this extra water would be too much for the measures that were already in place along the Mississippi River. Flooding was going to happen, which put their homes and ways of making a living in danger. So it was necessary to do something.
Working as you go
The people did something about it themselves. They worked hard to find the right materials and then started piling them up around their homes. They had to build dams on the spot to protect their homes. Would it work, though? Could these buildings handle all that weight?
Here’s a place that, all things considered, seems to have done pretty well. The floodwater around the dams cut off the property from the rest of the land, making it almost like an island. But considering how bad things were, the house seems to have turned out okay.
A lot of stuff
But in order for the dams to work, they needed a lot of materials. There wasn’t going to be enough sand and dirt to do the job with just a little bit of it. It would take a lot of it to get the job done. Many of the people were able to find enough to build dams that were strong enough to hold.
For the dams to work, though, they needed a lot of materials. There wasn’t going to be enough sand and dirt to get the job done with just a little bit of it. Many of the people were able to find enough to build dams that would hold.
To and fro
Many of the houses that the dams were meant to protect ended up being completely cut off from land. But that raises the question: how could the owners ever get back and forth? So, they had to find a way to get on a boat that would take them from their remote homes to land and back.
Some people even built dams that were so high that you couldn’t see over them. That must have taken a lot of time and money, but it would have been worth it. After all, it’s better to block the view from your front window than to let flood water cover your whole house.
All in vain
Even though many of these makeshift barriers worked, not all of them were as strong. Some unfortunate people couldn’t save their homes no matter what they did. Even though they worked hard, those buildings were still destroyed by the floods. And all that work was for nothing in the end.
And Vicksburg and its people weren’t just hurt by the damage to their homes. Even worse things did happen. Yes, some people did die because of the floods, which is a sad sign of how bad this disaster really was. Losing homes is bad enough, but losing people’s lives is much worse.
Wiped out Businesses
But even though the damage to people’s businesses isn’t as bad as the deaths, it’s still an important part of the story. Workers at a company called Dirt Works Inc. tried to build a dam around their workplace, but it didn’t work. The barrier broke, and water rushed into the building.
Costing a lot of money
Because of the flooding, the region’s economy had to take a huge hit. At its worst, the Mississippi River was too full to be used for transport. Even though that might seem like a small problem, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. It cost a lot of money to the economy.
Like a painting
Even though they show a lot of damage from the flooding, some aerial pictures of the area from this time were very interesting. When a picture was taken from a high place, it sometimes looked like a painting come to life. But, of course, none of this would have helped the people on the ground.
During this terrible event, the people of Vicksburg did something very unusual. Instead of giving up and giving in to hopelessness, they decided to build huge dams around their homes. Some properties were saved, while others were not, and some were only partially saved. But no matter what happened, these people had done everything they could.