City and county officials declare emergency as floodwaters rise

Published 7:58 pm Monday, February 25, 2019

By John Surratt and Rob Sigler

The Vicksburg Post

City crews began making preparations to install the Levee Street floodgates Monday morning as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday declared an emergency in advance of a 51.5-foot crest on the Mississippi River at Vicksburg March 14.

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The board’s resolution will allow the city to be able to get reimbursed later for equipment like pumps it leases or purchases for the flood fight. The Warren County Board of Supervisors approved a similar resolution Monday.

City public works director Garnet Van Norman said all gates along the floodwall have been closed with the exception of the north and south gates.

“We’re doing Levee Street in front of the Depot now, and then we’re going to go to the south end and close it off,” he said. “Then we’re going to wait and look and see what it (the water) does before we close the railroad off.”

Van Norman said city crews were in the process of excavating the slots for the steel braces to accept the wooden beams that are stacked to form the gate. He said the railroad tracks by the Depot are removed when the river stage reaches 52.1 feet, “But if the river starts rising, we’ll go on ahead and get them out. We won’t take them out until we absolutely have to.”

The installation of the Levee Street gate will block the truck route for 18-wheelers leaving Interstate 20 for the Port of Vicksburg and the industries in that area. Van Norman said the trucks are being rerouted to the I-20 U.S./61 North exit to reach the port and the industries.

City and emergency management officials met with business owners along the river and in the port to discuss the city/county flood response manual, which explained the emergency procedures and gave a timetable of what areas would be affected as the water rises.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Warren County Emergency Management would serve as the communications and information center, adding that Emergency Management director John Elfer would hold briefings as the water approached the 51-52-foot level.

Meanwhile, people are going to be displaced, according to Elfer, who gave the Warren County Board of Supervisors an update on the rising floodwaters expected to impact the area.

“We’re concerned about the backwater,” Elfer said. “It’s projected to go between 96 and 97 feet.”

According to Elfer, the elevation of Highway 465 between Highway 1 and the Mainline Levee is 97.5 feet.

“So you get 97 feet of water in the backwater, it’s going to displace some people,” Elfer said. He said there are currently two pumps at Eagle Lake trying to mitigate the water.

Elfer said even when the Mississippi River recedes to below flood stage the backwater still can’t be drained.

“The river has to get down to the upper 30s before they can open those gates again, is my understanding,” Elfer said. “So until those gates get open, even if the river side is not an issue, everything north of that Mainline Levee is still flooded and will continue to flood until such time as the gates can be opened.

“This is a significant flood. I’ve never seen 96 or 97 feet.”

Elfer said the levees are in good shape.

“They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Elfer said, adding there were a lot of rumors that went around over the weekend about Enid Dam breaking.

“Enid Dam is 700-feet thick,” Elfer said. “It has not broken.”

Elfer added that temporary housing for displaced residents could also be a problem without a federal disaster declaration.

“Temporary housing is an issue,” Elfer said. “And we’re not going to open a shelter. We’re just not going to open a shelter for 60 days. We can’t do it. Finding a place for these people to go and rent is a challenge. I don’t have a solution for it but we’re going to try and accommodate these folks.”

Elfer explained that many of these folks have been offered buyouts in these flood-prone areas in the past but have not accepted them for one reason or another.

“It’s unfortunate,” Elfer said.

Elfer added that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries & Parks is considering a no wake zone for Eagle Lake.

“And depending on conditions, they may decide to close the lake,” Elfer said.