FACES OF THE FLOODS: Eagle Lake resident recalls 2019, 2020 floods and a $275 ‘slap in the face’

Published 4:00 am Saturday, September 10, 2022

Faces of the Floods is a series by The Vicksburg Post that tells the stories of people impacted by catastrophic floods in the Yazoo Backwater area. 

When Stan Thibodeaux and his wife Rachel purchased their Eagle Lake home in 2018, the Louisiana-born pair thought they could handle an occasional flood, just as they had the many hurricanes that battered Baton Rouge over the years.

The Yazoo Backwater Flood of 2019 and the flood of 2020 changed their minds.

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Thibodeaux spent much of his life in the construction business but decided in spring 2018 that he wanted to move to Eagle Lake and start a fishing guide service. Shortly after purchasing his lakefront property, the 6-month Backwater Flood overtook everything but the doublewide trailer the Thibodeauxs call home and their front and back porches.

Thibodeaux was one of many South Mississippi Delta residents who spoke during an Aug. 24 meeting at South Delta High School in Rolling Fork, with a delegation from the Biden Administration in attendance.

The moment the floodwater receded is when Thibodeaux said his headache really began. The often-whitecapped waves of the overfilled Eagle Lake dismantled his pier and washed out portions of the cinderblocks on which his home rests.

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency arrived at his home following the flood.

“My damages, just materials — not labor —  were right at about $21,000,” Thibodeaux said on Aug. 24. “I never called them, but FEMA and MEMA showed up and said, ‘We’re going to get you some support. We’re going to get you some money.’

“Four months later… out of all that, I did receive a check from FEMA for a whopping $275,” he added. “That bought me two boxes of deck screws to help replace the pier that I lost.”

That check, Thibodeaux said later, was a “slap in the face” after all he’d been through and the time and labor he’d put into rebuilding.

“I worked all my life, paid taxes all my life, and it was a slap in the face to get what I got,” he said on Sept. 8. “I wasn’t asking them to repair everything or pay for everything… but it was a slap for the minimal amount I received. I never depended on (FEMA) after hurricanes I’d suffered damage through, and trying to get started up here with a new career, it was really disappointing.”

During the flood, the water around his home reached as high as 3 feet before dropping to around 2.5 feet for the duration.

Thibodeaux recalled having to park his truck in six inches of water on Highway 465 and then boat along the mainline levee to his home, where he then stepped out of the boat and onto his porch to enter the home. However, he said, the standing water impacted more than his means of transportation.

“To turn my water on at my water meter, I would have to go underwater, hold my breath and turn the valve on, and then when I left the house I would wade out there and turn the water meter off before I left,” he said.

He also expressed frustration that the flood in 2020 did not receive the same attention as the 2019 flood. While not as damaging as the 2019 flood, the flood in 2020 did present its own challenges — and all during a pandemic.

“We suffered two years back-to-back of flooding, and driving around trying to get to and from town. You go get groceries and try to get enough for two or three weeks, throw your groceries in the back of your truck and have to drive down the levee for several miles,” he said. “And then you have to get a blower and wet towels and wipe all the dust off your groceries before you can even bring them inside.

“There are so many other effects or things that affected us indirectly, other than the floodwaters at that time.”

As a fishing guide specializing in white perch (also known as crappie or sac-a-lait), Thibodeaux said he’s observed much about the area he calls home while on the water and gazing across the banks.

For one, he said, since the 2019 Backwater Flood, he hasn’t seen a single live rabbit. He only recently saw a pair of raccoons and opossums, which were previously common in the area.

“The devastation of wildlife was astronomical,” he said. “Simple things, as far as earthworms. Before the flood, I could rake the leaves back and pick all the worms up under the leaves and go fishing for a day or two. Tilling my gardens (now), we very seldom even see a worm.”

He also described starving squirrels that would come down from the treetops in search of food. The nuts they’d buried now deep underwater, the squirrels ate plastic funnels off his gas cans and even lead fishing weights, just to have something in their stomachs.

Still, he said, he’s firmly rooted in Eagle Lake and has no desire to leave.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you just move?'” he said. “Well, if you go back where I came from, you’re dealing with hurricanes. Thousands of people live on the Coast; why don’t they just move? You go to California where they have forest fires and earthquakes; why don’t they just move? You get to the midwest where they have the tornados; why don’t they just move?

“Where in the hell do you move to where there’s no catastrophe or devastation? The only flip side of what we experienced was, that after 6 and-a-half months of flooding, FEMA knew we were flooding but they didn’t come in full-fledged like they do… for a hurricane or a natural disaster or tornado, when they show up in droves,” he added. “… It’s like we’re just a little drop in the bucket. We’re not a concern. We don’t pay the taxes that these big communities pay, and we’re shunned by it. We’ve been overlooked.”

If you or someone you know is a South Delta resident impacted by the Yazoo Backwater Floods, email The Vicksburg Post’s Managing Editor at anna.guizerix@vicksburgpost.com to share your story.