VICKSBURG, MISS. -- As the swollen crest of the Mississippi River makes its way toward Vicksburg, Miss., this week, the town is already on high alert.
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Some riverfront casinos and port facilities are already submerged, and residents in low-lying neighborhoods have already been flooded out for days.
Much of Vicksburg sits high atop a bluff. But the areas on the outskirts of town have felt the full force of the unprecedented river levels. In one neighborhood south of town, resident Austin Hynum ferried his dogs back and forth on a flatboat to his front door.
Over the course of three days last week, Hynum and his neighbors scrambled to hire contractors to jack up their trailer homes high enough to avoid the rising waters.
05/16/2011 7:59 PM EDT
Army Corps Undertakes New Operation: Social Media
HuffPost's Laura Gottesdiener reports:
This past Saturday, the Army Corps of Engineers both opened the Morganza Spillway—a massive apparatus built in the 1920s that has stayed closed for nearly 40 years—and celebrated the success of its new Facebook initiative, Operation Watershed.
The former event was precipitated by a measurement of 1.5 million cubic feet per second, the calculation of how fast the river needed to flow to necessitate opening the spillway. The later operation was measured in newer metrics: likes, newsfeed impressions and unique page views.
Conversion tables aside, both operations seem to be a success. The New York Times reported on Monday that the pressure on levees downstream of the Morganza has slackened. Meanwhile, the 18,000 news feed impressions that the Army Corps of Engineers’ Facebook page garnered on Saturday, March 14, the day the Morganza was opened, suggests that the Corps’ venture into social media is carrying out its own diversion operation: orienting people attention away from rumors and speculation and towards accurate, government-issued information.
"It’s been a success," said Army Corps spokesman and one of the Facebook page managers Steve Rochette. "We’re providing real-time information, photos and videos on the operations. They’re [the users] are getting the information first and they know that it’s accurate because it’s an official page," he said.
The Army Corps venture into providing "real-time information, photos and videos" also diverts attention away from major news outlets, another indication of a shift in the way news is disseminated and consumed. Yet Rochette said the Corps isn't attempting to usurp the media and that the agency is still issuing its slew of press releases.
Page "Operation Watershed" was inspired by a similar Facebook initiative by the Corps in late April, when the agency created a separate page before detonating the Birds Point levee in near Cairo, Ill., to divert water away from the Mississippi. That page had nearly 36,000 monthly users, said Rochette, a level of popularity that prompted the Corps to use this tactic again for the Morganza event.
Nearly 9,000 people currently "like" Operation Watershed’s page—a low number for social media but a high one given these users "like" an initiative to flood thousands of square miles of Southeast Louisiana. In addition to Corps news updates, the page acts as a forum for residents to applaud or deride the Corps’ decision, often depending on where one lives.
"THANK EACH OF YOU FOR YOUR COLLECTIVE WORK FOR OUR SAFETY. GOD BLESS," wrote one woman whose page is private but who likely lives downstream of the Mississippi.
Everyone doesn’t share her enthusiasm for the decision that Major Gen. Michael Walsh categorized as "grave." Yet most users appear appreciative of information provided, regardless of how it will affect their communities.
"Thank you for all the graphs, charts and maps," wrote one user who identified himself as a "Morgan City boy." "Very good information & for keeping the public updated as much as possible!!"
His post was on Friday. By Monday, his city was in flood-fighting mode, building a floodwall, laying sandbags and sinking a several-hundred-foot-long barge into the channel to block the coming water, said Army Corps Spokesman Bob Anderson. Some parts of Morgan City are still expected to get up to five feet of standing water, but estimates grow lower each day, especially due to the preparations.
"There’s some tough folks down there," said Anderson. "They’re not just going to get flooded; they’re going to fight it."
05/16/2011 6:49 PM EDT
'Good Luck -- That's All You Can Wish For'
HuffPost's Chris Kirkham reports:
PORT GIBSON, Miss. -- Little Bayou Pierre snakes through this tiny town of antebellum mansions and crumbling, vine-covered shacks.
But for nearly two weeks now, the bayou has been flowing the wrong way. Amid intense backward pressure from the Mississippi River, Little Bayou Pierre has outgrown its name -- and overflowed its banks -- slowly submerging parts of this town.
This tributary to the Mississippi River is usually little more than a small stream with sandy shoals, but in the past few days the bayou has already swallowed the home across the street from Debra Foster. And on Monday afternoon the water was slowly making its way uphill on Shipp Street and into Foster's yard. She and her family were leaving to stay with a friend. They placed sandbags in the doorway as a last-ditch effort to prevent flooding.
"Good luck -- that's all you can wish for," said Pocahontas Brown, who lives two houses up the road from Foster. Brown said she used to live higher up in the hills and rues her decision to move to Shipp Street.
Several other houses were within inches of being submerged. With the crest of the river still several days away, residents fear it's only a matter of time before they are inundated. Like other parts of the Mississippi Delta, Port Gibson sits more than a dozen miles from the river, but its proximity to tributaries and backwater streams leaves it at much greater risk of flooding than it otherwise would be.
One of the oldest towns in Mississippi, Port Gibson has a history deeply ingrained in the Civil War. The wooden welcome sign to town reads, "Too beautiful to burn," a statement made by Ulysses S. Grant after a major battle in the area, according to legend.
05/13/2011 8:19 PM EDT
Morganza Spillway To Be Opened For First Time In 38 Years
HuffPost's Laura Gottesdiener reports:The Feds have given the Army Corps of Engineers the official approval to open the Morganza spillway Friday evening, an act that would avoid massive flooding in New Orleans, but will blanket about 3,000 square miles of southeast Louisiana in standing water up to 25 inches high.
The President of the Mississippi River Commission Major General Michael J. Walsh gave the orders early Friday evening, saying that the New Orleans District Commander Colonel Ed Fleming should to be prepared to open the spillway within the next 24 hours.
Opening this floodway, which has remained closed for 38 years, will divert the flooding Mississippi River down the Atchafalaya River, which is to the west of the Mississippi, and runs through mostly sparsely populated areas of southeast Louisiana.
On a boat on the Mississippi River itself, Army Corps officials told The Huffington Post that it’s not absolutely definite the spillway will be opened, but the current predictions about the water’s flow rate certainly indicate that it will happen.
The limit for opening the Morganza is a flow rate that exceeds 1.5 million cubic feet per second, and currently the projections are at 1.6 million.
“Before the predictions were at 1.8 million, so we’re going in the right direction,” said Bob Anderson of the Army Corps. "We’re hoping over the next 24 hours it will decrease, but right now the projection is 1.6 million.”
Anderson said that the major consideration for opening the Morganza spillway is protecting the existing levees and floodwalls that control the river. If those fail, he warned, there could be an uncontrollable breach with massive amounts of water flowing in unpredictable directions, including into New Orleans and Baton Rogue.
As for the state of the river itself, he said that it’s looking wilder than he’s ever seen it.
“The river’s big, it’s wide, it’s nasty,” Anderson said. “It’s got a lot of floating debris and trees. It is the big money.”
05/12/2011 4:16 PM EDT
'It's Getting Scary' In Poverty-Stricken Delta Region
YAZOO CITY, Miss. — A slow migration unfolded in central Mississippi on Thursday, with people and animals seeking higher ground to escape the flooding from the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
In Louisiana, water poured over a century-old levee, flooding 12,000 acres of corn and soybeans despite farmers' frantic efforts to shore up the structure. Downstream, officials with the Port of New Orleans said the Coast Guard could close the river to ships as early as Monday, halting traffic on one of the world's busiest commercial waterways.
After swamping low-lying neighborhoods in Memphis, Tenn., earlier this week, the rising water is bringing misery to farms and small waterfront communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. The Corps of Engineers is considering whether to open the Morganza spillway, which would flood thousands of homes and acres of farmland along a 100-mile stretch in Louisiana but take the pressure off levees and help to protect Baton Rouge, New Orleans and the oil refineries in between. A decision is expected in the next several days.
In Yazoo City, Miss., Brett Robinson drove slowly down River Road near his farm Thursday, staring at corn fields that are beginning to look like lakes. He stopped his truck, pulled out a rifle and shot a wild hog swimming through his corn. He knows he'll lose the crops to the flood anyway, but that hog could be a nuisance even longer than the water.
"We lose a lot of crops to them," he said of wild pigs. "We can lose 40 acres in a night. They can give birth three times a year and have 15 in a litter."
Wild pigs multiply faster than farmers, hunters and wildlife officials can deal with them. The flood is driving them into the open, giving farmers an opportunity to kill them.
Read more here.
05/12/2011 4:09 PM EDT
Photos Of Tragedy Along The Mississippi
To view a slideshow with the latest photos of the tragedy along the Mississippi, click here.AP: Seth Robinson, 4, looks around at the Yazoo River flooding of his father's corn crop on farm land along River Road, north of Yazoo City, Miss., Thursday, May 12, 2011. Thousands of acres of corn, wheat, soybean and cotton crops are now underwater as the tributaries are backing up from flooding along the Mississippi River. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
05/12/2011 11:31 AM EDT
State Officials Debate Opening The Morganza Spillway
HuffPost's Laura Gottesdiener reports:
As the flood crest of the overflowing Mississippi River slowly moves south, state officials are debating whether the Army Corps of Engineers should open the Morganza Spillway, a floodway in Louisiana located on the western bank that can be used to control the flow of water downstream. Opening the Morganza Spillway would divert the growing crest away from major cities downstream, including Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Instead, the water would flow down the Atchafalaya River, which is to the west of the Mississippi in Louisiana, and ultimately out to the Gulf.
The Morganza Spillway has only been opened once before, in 1973. Officials estimate that opening it now could flood 3 million acres of farmland. The area is not densely populated, but it does include Morgan City and Houma.
In anticipation of the possible opening, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told residents yesterday in Southeast Louisiana to consider evacuating their homes."If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides to open the Morganza Spillway, it could take approximately a week from the day they start, and roughly 3,900 people and 2,600 structures would be impacted by the high water," Jindal told CNN.
Don Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, told HuffPost yesterday that officials are growing close to making the decision, and that the possibility of the crest swamping New Orleans may force their hands.
“If the alternative is flooding new Orleans again, there is no choice.”
The Army Corps. of Engineers predicts that Saturday could be the day it opens the Spillway if the rate of water flow continues as expected.
See a map of the Morganza Spillway and the possible diverted flooding by The Washington Post.
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