Jim Brown

Thursday, May 12th 2011
New Orleans, Louisiana


Randy Newman’s song, Louisiana 1927, hit home to many residents up and down the Mississippi river this week. He was singing about the 1927 flood, where more than 23,000 square miles were inundated, hundreds of people died, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. As of right now, predictions are that water levels up and down the river will exceed those reached in the 1927 disaster. And no one really knows how bad it will get.

It has been abnormally hot this spring throughout the south. A number of states have seen three times the normal amount of rain. But along with the downpours, there have been droughts and wildfires. Then came the tornadoes in all time record numbers that killed at least 309 people and caused massive destruction. Insurance losses are now projected to exceed $6 billon, with a similar amount for homes that were either under insured, or not insured at all.

The heavy spring rains have been incessant up and down the river, and there are projections for more Midwest thunderstorms later on this week. And all this water has, over the years, been channeled in tight levee systems that are right now under massive pressure. Author John Barry, who has been a guest on my radio show on several occasions, documented the dangers of flooding on the Mississippi in his award winning book, “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi river Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.” I asked him about his concerns today. “I know the power of this river, and quite frankly it makes me nervous to see this much water on the move,” he says.

Barry also points out that “there will be a lot of backwater flooding going up rivers that are normally tributaries flowing into the Mississippi. They won’t be able to empty into the Mississippi, so the main line River will back up these streams causing a great deal of additional flooding.”

I know his scenario well from living through back water problems during the 1973 flood, where water levels reached their highest point to date. I was a newly elected state senator in Louisiana living right on the Mississippi in Ferriday, across the river from Natchez, Mississippi. I could go up on my roof and see across the main line levee as the waters continued to rise.

The water got so high that the Red and Black Rivers in that area that it began to back up, flooding many communities throughout my district. Some towns, like Jonesville, were surrounded by water and local residents had to get to and from their homes by boat. At the lower end of Catahoula Parish (other states have counties, but in Louisiana they are called parishes), some homes were buried under twenty-five feet of water.

When the river along the mainline levee came within four feet of overtopping, the local sheriff emptied the jails putting prisoners to work filling sandbags to build up the levees. For four days, I occasionally catnapped while working alongside neighbors and prisoners as we tried to raise the levee with sand. When the river finally crested, there was a little over a foot to spare that kept the Mighty Mississippi from pouring into our neighborhoods and destroying our homes.

Fast forward 38 years and the river levels look to be even higher and the flooding worse. Some three million acres will go under water in Louisiana alone, and almost half of the parishes here have been declared disaster areas. The River is approaching dangerous heights right now, yet the projected crest in Louisiana is not until May 23.

There are three major spillways along the river in Louisiana, and each has floodgates that can be opened to divert the raging waters. Opening these gates lessens the chance of flooding many inhabited areas, but the process is not a panacea. The millions of tons of sediment in the waters that are diverted will wipe out any crops in the water’s path along with many homes.

Roy Dokka, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Geoinformatics at Louisiana State University, says Louisiana farmers are in for a long hoe. “Any existing crops are going to be toast when you look at the damage caused to corn, sugar cane and soybeans that will be covered with sediment,” he stated. “Plus, God knows what’s in the water and what gets deposited.”

And what if the levees collapse as they did during Katrina? “That’s the worst case scenario,” says Dokka. “If levees break, weeks could pass before engineers could reseal them. If wide-scale flooding occurs, the resulting economic damage will be felt for years, he said. “Any city that ever floods never really returns economically to where it once was because people don’t have confidence, people don’t want to put businesses there. New Orleans is the big example.”

So the south is taking on Mother Nature with a wing and a prayer. Living in this part of the country is a gamble that has consequences. Newman’s lyrics for a flood 84 years ago could just as well apply to what many residents who live along the Mississippi are facing right now, as each day passes.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.

4 thoughts on “Jim Brown”

  1. Better check this and make sure it’s not cut and pasted from another article.

    What about the Named Storm Deductibles, Jim?

  2. The Mainline Mississippi River Levees are not Katrina tried as that was the first major attack and they failed due to improper monitoring & maintenance.

    The Mainline levees have been tried annually for over 80 years and about ever 10 yrs are pushed almost to their maximum. Many folk do not know that the NOD was authorized to overbuild the levees by 3 – 5 ft for these occasions. They are surveyed annually and monitored much better and maintained much better than the local flood control projects in this area.

    Not many know that the channel to Baton Rouge is maintained to -40 ft from the Gulf and above Baton Rouge it is maintained only to -12 ft. Further the normal flow of the river has much of the river well below -40 and some points to -200 ft. As the slope of the river decreases the silt carried in the river settles out in the passes and it is neccesary to dredge the SW Pass year round to maintain the necessary channel width & depth for the Ocean going vessesl that transport items to New Orleans & Baton Rouge as well as grain elevators along that channel.

    There should be another structure on the Atchafalaya Basin to control its waters from the Red, Black and Mississippi Rivers, instead of trying to pass it all throught the channel at Morgan City and Berwick as these channels have been rebuilding the Atchafalaya Bay to a point where most is walkable do to all the silt/sand deposits. The dredge belonging to the NOD that sits most times unable to work for reasons of fair play to contractors could be used to keep these channels wider and deeper allowing flow to increase on the existing channels. This passage is approximately 200 miles shorter than the Mississippi and is held to only carrying 30% of that flow in the Atchafalaya. We need to divert flow through swamps or marsh areas to rebuid our natural protection that is eroding away.

  3. Wayne and Ashton, maybe the massive current of the mighty Mississippi will intercede and correct the injustice of the arrogant squatters, their illegal dumping of human waste in violation of EPA and their politico parish pals. Just need a little tree debris to collect under the pilings to form resistance to let Mother Nature push and SWISH–they are–wait for it—— slabbed !!!!!!!!!

  4. There is that possibility, however they appear to be above the waterline in most instances and the debris along the bank isn’t that massive as of the pictures indicate.

    But I am sure they could apply for a handout and get everything fixed on your dollar.

    However no problesms from overtopping since the water is still on the slope paving and their is even more sod above that to reach the crown.

    Bad reporting and sensationalism are driving this high water not like the 1973 or 1992 ones and in 1973 we had a Russian Ship on the batture behind Ochsner Hospital and we all survived.

    We should have tugs escorting all downstream traffice to below Chalmette that are ocea going vessels & no barges should be left unattended until the river is back in its banks.

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