County, companies move dirt to save houses

Published 12:30 am Sunday, May 8, 2011

If the Mississippi River floods Green Meadow subdivision, it won’t be because a few persistent people didn’t try desperately on Saturday to prevent it.

“There’s no sense in waiting till Monday,” said Brad Davidson, vice president of Electro Magnetic Solutions. “We’re fighting the fight.”

As the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported Saturday that 1,500 Warren County homes had been evacuated, private businesses, along with Warren County workers, raised about a quarter-mile of abandoned rail bed behind Short Street about 2 feet to protect the south Vicksburg neighborhood.

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Culverts removed by the city years ago had left long ditches between the river and more than 50 homes on the street. The culverts haven’t been replaced, leaving residents more vulnerable to water already forecast to blanket areas between the river and U.S. 61 South.

“EMS, Energy Services International, Mid South Lumber, LaSalle Bristol and Cappaert Enterprises are the one’s heading this up,” Davidson said. “We called the supervisors this morning. The city wasn’t going to do anything and we’re gonna try to tackle it ourselves.”

Meadow Lane, Central Drive, Willow Drive and Short Street form a tilted block built in the early 1950s that dips low on the western edge, nearest the river.

Rounding up three dump trucks and a dozer from the Road Department on a Saturday happened only because President Barack Obama agreed to declare Warren County a disaster area Thursday, District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said. The act allows local governments to have costs tied to disasters reimbursed, such as overtime pay and debris cleanup. Ten other Mississippi counties have been OK’d for the assistance and help for three more has been requested by Gov. Haley Barbour.

“Until it got declared a federal disaster, we were limited in what we could do,” Lauderdale said, adding the dirt was donated by Cappaert Enterprises. Saving the subdivision “all depends on if the crest doesn’t get any higher.”

“If we beat this,” said Davidson, local government is “ really going to look bad. Private citizens came out here and saved this whole area, from the old Magnolia building to Cooper Lighting.”

Stages on the Mississippi River stood at 50.4 feet at Vicksburg, up 1.1 foot from Saturday morning. The river is forecast to crest at Vicksburg on May 20 at 57.5 feet, which would put it past the historic 1927 flood by 1.3 feet. Levels at the Steele Bayou Control Structure were 89.7 feet on the land side and 99.2 feet on the river side Saturday night, meaning nearly 90-foot-deep water is being held north of the control structure on about 4,000 acres of farmland.

All through the small neighborhood, residents and family members scurried to pack up homes and drive belongings to higher ground.

Brothers Phil and Joe Parks wasted no time packing up items from their mother’s Willow Street home.

“She’s almost 92, so we’re moving her out,” Phil Parks said, holding a bag open with his brother, Joe, in town from Georgia to help her move.

If the water comes, they’ll just “wait for the water to go down” before returning their mother from an apartment rented because of the flooding, Phil Parks said.

Amos Pendleton, an employee of Grand Station Casino, left his Short Street house to hole up at work for the time being.

“I’ve lived here six years,” Pendleton said. He said water also stood in the ditch in 2008, when the river crested at 50.9 feet at Vicksburg.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said Saturday the culverts were removed “about a year and a half ago” and the city had planned to replace them. Beauman, a former resident of the subdivision, said waters in the 1973 flood “didn’t even get to the pipes.”

Mayor Paul Winfield said he spent Saturday checking Ford subdivision off North Washington Street and did a “peek-in” at Chickasaw Road. Those neighborhoods and others in the northwestern-most part of the city were reportedly virtually abandoned by residents earlier in the week when water began covering streets.

Mandatory shutoffs of water and gas service in flood-prone areas were likely this week, Winfield said, adding the city will assist the Green Meadow efforts beginning Monday.

“Those holes were dug before I got here,” Winfield said. “Some businesses have taken the initiative in doing it.”

MEMA has said more than 2,200 households have been evacuated in anticipation of flooding, ranging from two houses in Jefferson County to the 1,500 in Warren County.

The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for Warren, Issaquena, Coahoma, Tallahatchie, Quitman, Yalobusha, Panola, Tate, Tunica and DeSoto counties.

A black, polyurethane mat will cover the Yazoo Backwater Levee that runs parallel to Mississippi 465 and north into the Delta so floodwater doesn’t compromise the north side of the 28-mile earthen structure, Corps spokesman Kavanaugh Breazeale said.

Corps officials expect water to overtop the levee by at least a foot. It and Mississippi 465, known as Eagle Lake Road, were closed to traffic Wednesday. The mainline river levee system was closed to traffic Saturday.

South of Vicksburg, water lapped across LeTourneau road, where fishermen waded and some residents drove to and from their homes in 18-wheel rigs.

Farther south, in Claiborne County, Rodney Road was closed from Port Gibson to Alcorn State University, Sheriff Frank Davis said. Flooding isn’t expected to affect Windsor Ruins, Davis said.

The American Red Cross has opened two shelters for those fleeing rising waters, the G.W. Henderson Senior Recreation Center in Tunica and Hawkins United Methodist Church in Vicksburg.