Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat — Victoria Walraven, left, and her mom, Rhonda, stand in front of a flooded Deer Park Road by their house. When the water rises to 38 feet, areas around their house begin to flood, forcing them to take precautions in case the water rises any higher.

Deer Park residents: Area is worth high-water hassles

Published 12:01am Saturday, February 2, 2013

DEER PARK — Long before people inside the levee system start getting nervous about high water, the residents of a small community south of Vidalia have been inundated with floodwaters for days or even weeks.

Some years, it happens more than once.

But that’s because when you turn left off of Louisiana 15 and pass the sign that reads, “Welcome to the unincorporated community of Deer Park,” you’re entering a piece of terra firma that occupies a space between the abandoned levee system and the one now maintained by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Mississippi River comes and goes as it pleases, creeping up the land and crossing the main road when it reaches 42 feet. Residents there have already gotten their first taste of flood this year, though for the moment the National Weather Service is projecting the river will make a steady fall back to 35.5 feet by Wednesday.

Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat — Rhonda Walraven’s background normally extends further, but the rising water takes what it wants, she said.

Resident Rhonda Walraven said at 38 feet the water was at the road and within three days it was up her driveway; another 2 feet and the water would have claimed her yard.

But such is part of life in Deer Park, she said. So is occasionally having to boat a child to the bus stop.

“Being down here, taking the chances of water coming up, it is something you just deal with as it comes,” Walraven said. “You just do what needs to be done.”

Just inside the levee, there’s a storage shed on pontoons. A little further down the road, not one but two beached vessels — one a towboat, the other the historic steamer Mamie S. Barrett — sit moldering on the land, covered in vines. In the past, when the waters have risen the boats have also floated.

Nearly every structure there is built on stilts because the area sits on what could best be described as a six-month flood plane. In five years, there have been two major floods, one of which claimed the record as being the highest ever at 61.9 feet.

Many of the residents of the area treat their stilted houses as camps, and when water starts to come in they leave. Resident Howard Jones said when the river really pours in, only three families stick around; he and his wife Sherry are one of those families.

During the big flood, the record-setter in 2011, they stuck it out. Sheriff’s deputies who patrolled the area called them “the crazy ones,” he said, but the Joneses didn’t abandon their house.

“It’s not a fish camp,” he said. “We built this as our home, and if you leave your home and there ain’t nobody here, anybody who has a boat can come in and rob you of all you have got.”

Jones said he stuck it out even as the power was turned off and water rose above the stilts and into his house.

He and Sherry spent two weeks living on their 20- by 40-foot floating dock.

“I didn’t want to leave my home, because that was the first time we had that much water,” he said. “We could go stay with kinfolks but we don’t. It gets tough taking cold showers under a water hose and cooking everything on a butane cooker.”

But that’s the kind of thing that you might have to do if you choose to live in Deer Park full-time, Jones said.

As for Walraven, she, too, is staying put should the floodwaters come back.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “This is our home.”

Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat — Most of the house and camps at the entrance to Deer Park were completely submerged Friday when the water level was at 44 feet.
  • suzee981

    It is their choice of where they want to live, but people who live in areas like this and say they won’t leave ‘no matter what’ are the ones crying for FEMA help when they get flooded out. Not to mention the danger they’re placing themselves and their families in.

  • Anonymous

    WOW….broad generalization much? You really don’t know &^%$ and wouldn’t say anything to those folks face. It’s easy to be brave behind a keyboard. You ever think that some folks have to live where they can afford? We’re talking about flooding on the other side of a levee…it’s not like it’s a huge storm….the “danger” is minimal, especially to those who are used to navigating those kinds of hazards.

  • khakirat

    I hope the Ladies and their families the best of luck to them for I bet its interesting living there and beautiful for you could eat fish three time a day if you liked!!

  • Patricia Palmer Priest

    I have a house in the same place last year when the water came up FEMA came up and got run out cause all they were wanting was MONEY. I don’t know you and you don’t know. I can promise you we are safer in DEERPARK than probably where you live. We watch out for each other and help each other. Yes it is OUR choice to live where we want to. Do you leave your house wide open 24-7?

  • sherry jones

    Yes it is by choice, however,fema has NEVER helped us! FEMA changed “regulations ” costing a lot of our neigbors thousands of dollors!! I think the corp of engineers were to blame for allowing the river to get so high in 2011/2012 before taking action

  • sherry jones

    By staying on the river when it is flooded we were actually safer on our side opposed to being on the side for the river water broke