Rebuilding still a process for flood victims

Published 11:59 am Monday, April 23, 2012

The Mississippi River Flood of 2011 displaced more than 3,200 people in Warren County. Some stayed in shelters, while others rode out the record flood with relatives or friends. For many, the flood wasn’t over when the water receded.

Since the flood, Jason and Casey Gordon have gone back to Glass Road every so often to let their two children, Alyssa Claire, 9, and Evan, 5, roam and play where their mobile home stood.

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It takes longer to leave their faded paradise each time back.

“I’m used to working outside,” Jason Gordon said, a few yards from where a stately row of Bradford pear trees showed the way to about five acres of heaven on Earth. Life in a two-bedroom apartment the past eight months is wearing on them.

“I can’t cut grass, can’t play with the kids,” he said. “When we go somewhere, it’s somewhere to spend money. I’m an outdoors person. I hunt, I fish.”

A machinist, 30-year-old Jason and Casey Gordon, 28, an administrative assistant, packed up and left their double-wide once the Mississippi River began to cover south Warren County west of U.S. 61 South. It was in the yard when the city gauge read 49 feet, but it just wasn’t supposed to get in the house, he said. Once it did, nearly 4 feet of water sat in the place for weeks and even the drywall near the ceiling was wet. “We sold it and dismantled it.”

As they searched for a place to land, their work wasn’t limited to keeping food on their table. Casey volunteered with the United Way of West Central Mississippi to help others who had been washed out. Both helped raise neighboring trailers owned by Jason’s relatives.

“If not for friends and family, we’d have never made it,” Casey said.

Everyday life is uncomfortably confined for the Gordons. Playtime on wide-open fields of green has given way to a concrete parking lot. Their Chihuahua — banned with other pets from the apartment — now lives with Jason’s parents. Indoors? Well, it’s safest to say it’s been cramped.

“The kids share a room, and instead of playing outside it’s going over somewhere else to play,” Casey said. “And we share a bathroom. We have to go to a laundromat. It’s about to drive us insane.”

Gary Cox knew it couldn’t have been a good thing to see a flier from the City of Vicksburg in the door of his home in Green Meadow subdivision.

“They told us we needed to go, that it was all at our own risk,” he said. “They didn’t see it as locally as we did.”

Cox, his wife, Debbie, and mother-in-law, Mary Watson, left home on Meadow Street and rented an apartment for a month. Meanwhile, industries down U.S. 61 South — rankled by the city’s apathy and inability to explain why concrete culverts were removed behind the subdivision near an abandoned rail bed — built a levee nearly 2 miles long to protect the neighborhood and themselves. Water reached past the toe of the makeshift barrier, but it held.

“We began putting it up when the crest was revised by 4 feet,” said Ray English, co-owner and president of Foam Packaging, one of a handful of businesses east of the tracks that had to become engineers overnight. “We knew we had to do something. We had to react. I know the people in Green Meadow are happy we put it up and it helped keep the water out.”

City crews and some county road department trucks helped haul dirt to a half-complete project once most residents had evacuated. A year later, the grassy levee remains the subdivision’s strongest flood protection.

Once Cox returned home, he found he had some company in the neighborhood that dates to the 1960s and tilts toward the river from 61. Grass that covers the small levee forms the border between it and Cox’s backyard.

“They had snakes in the trees, had some trees down,” Cox said. The beavers he and some neighbors spotted didn’t last long. He can say he saw them, though.

“I saw ’em,” he remembers. “I saw ’em dead!”

Linda Powell is still putting the pieces back together.

After floodwaters forced her and her family from their home for almost three months, Powell returned to the Kings community where she grew up, moving into a new double-wide mobile home on the site of her mother’s home about a block from Taylor Street, where her flood-damaged house still stands.

“It’s coming along, but it’s been difficult,” she said. “I’m starting from scratch.”

Powell, 59, lives in her home with her granddaughter Jaidy Pedyfoot, 2, and her aunt, Ida Murray, 93. She is trying to return to work as a substitute teacher for the Vicksburg Warren School District and trying to get a ramp built for her aunt, who recently suffered a stroke.

“I left my home on Mother’s Day,” she said. “We could see the water coming across the road. When I came back, my mama’s house was gone, and everything in my house was damaged. It’s amazing what water can do. You look at it, and it looks so calm, but it’s moving.”

After living in a hotel and then an apartment at Confederate Ridge, Powell decided to return to Kings and build on her mother’s property.

“This is my home,” she said. “Kings is a nice place to live.”

She said the hardest part about returning was “getting ready and doing the little things — getting the deck built and the ramp for my aunt. The back porch still needs to be built.

“We had to get clothes,” she said. “All of the clothes in my house were ruined.”

While discussing the past year, Powell reached up and took out a small picture wedged in the frame of a larger picture.

“This is my house,” she said, showing a photo of her home on Taylor Street surrounded by water. “The mortgage company is supposed to give me some money for it and take it away.”

“This was so devastating,” she said. “It will be difficult, but we’re going to get through it. I’ve put it all in God’s hands, and I know we will be fine.”

When the floodwaters receded, reopening Mississippi 465 to Eagle Lake, Tommy Beasley and his wife, Debbie, went home.

The Beasleys left their home at the corner of Shell Beach Road and Eagle Alley in early May and were gone for almost a month.

“We left when we knew 61 was getting ready to be closed,” he said. “We stayed to do last-minute stuff to get ready for the flood.

“When we returned, the house was all right,” he said. “The only damage was to my pier and my bank.”

He showed photographs of his pier before and after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raised the level of the lake to ease pressure on the mainline levee at Buck Chute, where the Corps had shored up sand boils ahead of the rising Mississippi.

“It had a storage shed and a swing on it,” he said. “When we returned, the only thing holding the shed together were some wires.”

Beasley said he has filed a claim with the Corps for the pier and is awaiting a response. He said he has fixed the lake bank.

He said Eagle Lake is starting to come back, adding many of his friends have returned.

The fishing, he said, is very good, and pointed south to Messina Landing, the area’s public boat dock.

“On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, that parking area is full. And we get a lot of traffic on this road,” he said, pointing to Shell Beach Road.

“For an area like this, you’d think there wouldn’t be that many cars, but it’s busy.”

Beasley, who is retired from Entergy, said he won’t leave if a flood threatens again.

“I wouldn’t have left the last time, but at the time, our daughter was pregnant, and we keep our grandchildren. It would have been too dangerous for them to stay, and too far for us to travel to help them, so we left.”

“This is a nice neighborhood, and it’s quiet, despite the traffic,” he said. “All of us here have been friends for a long time and we get together and do things.”

At one time, Beasley said, he and his wife owned the home at Eagle Lake and another in Bovina. When he retired, he said, they chose to stay at Eagle Lake.

“We couldn’t give this one up,” he said. “We love it here.”

Tuesday: Businesses look ahead