Tunica residents take high Mississippi in stride

Published 10:47 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

TUNICA (AP) — Charlie Barringer gazed at the cooler as it glided by his boat, and he shook his head.

“There goes somebody’s weekend party floating by,” Barringer said, his bright blue eyes watching the cooler drift away.

“The sad thing is where that cooler is floating, last week cars were parked there. Now, the parking lot is a parking river.”

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After more than a week of heavy rains, the Mississippi River is at flood stage and residents such as Barringer — who lives along the Tunica Cutoff, an oxbow lake off the river in Tunica County — are once again coping with the floodwaters.

The river Wednesday was at an unofficial 38.3 feet, according to a gauge Barringer mounted in the fishing camp neighborhood he has owned for 24 years.

The official reading — from the National Weather Service at Memphis — put the Mississippi River at 46 feet at Helena-West Helena, Ark., at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The river was expected to drop Thursday to 45.8 feet at that river stage station, which is downriver from Tunica, and to 45.7 feet by Friday.

Four adventurers — Paul Cooley, Jerry Litton, John Ruskey and Paul Hartfield — took advantage of the high waters by heading out Tuesday from Memphis for Vicksburg. They expect to arrive Friday.

Their departure was soured somewhat by Everett Bates of the Riverfront Development Corp., who said he plans to give Ruskey some sort of fine for launching his boat off of Mississippi Greenbelt Park. He said the group of paddlers was ruining the grass. The boat launch at the north of Mud Island was blocked because of high water.

At Tunica Cutoff, the high water also caused Barringer to close his boat dock and bait shop after the water flooded Loggerhead Lane leading to his business, Charlie’s Camp.

Charlie’s Camp, like the other camps along the Cutoff, is a hodgepodge of mobile homes, houses, boat docks, small bars, lodges and bait shops.

“Normally this time of year, things are jumping here,” Barringer said. “But the flooding has stopped everything. ”

Barringer, 67, who lives in the camp with his wife, said he has been coming to the area since 1968. When he left his job at Memphis Transit Authority, he moved to the area and bought his 46-acre camp.

He said he leases 69 lots and about 30 families are year-round residents.

When the river started rising, they moved their cars to higher ground along the levee on Tunica Lake Road.

Barringer said he and his neighbors are accustomed to the flooding and this is not the worst they’ve endured.

“That was back in 1997 when the river reached 40.7 feet,” he said. “If it reaches that and higher, I will have to go because then it will make my bed float.”

This is just part of our life,” he added. “We’re old timers.”

But for Ricky McKinney, when the water kept rising, so did his fear that the flooded roads would make him miss his daughter’s April 19 wedding.

“So I left and came here,” said McKinney, 52. “Here” is the Delta Plantation Inn, a hotel along U.S. 61 in Tunica.