Mankind’s win over Mississippi River is historic

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The conference room in our building here at The Democrat displays framed front pages from a variety of historic days.

Some of the newspapers on the wall represent just Miss-Lou news, others report national news with a local twist. The front page from the day of the Natchez “straight line winds” is on the wall, as is the page reporting the passage of 1999 to 2000.

One framed newspaper shows former President Bill Clinton on impeachment day. Another newspaper has photos of the twin towers surrounded by smoke in 2001.

Email newsletter signup

I want to add another front page to the wall soon — April 22, 2008.

But the funny thing is, this historic day came and went without having an impact on many Miss-Lou lives.

Monday — and all this week, really — the Mississippi River stood at a higher level than it has in all but one year in our recorded history.

Its rushing waters eclipsed the height of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, 1973 and 1997.

And the Mississippi River came within approximately a foot of being the greatest flood Natchez has ever seen.

Yet, aside from the folks that have property on river islands, those who built their houses on stilts along the river’s edge or those who live in certain parts of Wilkinson County, the river has only been a marvel to see, not a force with which to reckon.

Only a handful of people and livestock have been evacuated. Only two businesses are closed.

For the rest of us, life is perfectly normal. We merely gained a new attraction in town.

But April 22, 2008, is still an historic day in Natchez. The digital photo albums in houses around the Miss-Lou are bound to bear flood photos proving the importance of the day.

The river may not get this high again in any of our lifetimes. Or perhaps this is going to become a regular occurrence. Only time will tell, but one way or the other 2008 was a significant year in the life of the river and in the life of the Miss-Lou.

Homes weren’t swept away like they were in 1927. The levees didn’t break. You couldn’t ride in a boat from Natchez to Ferriday. Vidalia wasn’t submerged. No one died.

The river reared its ugly head, but — for the most part — man won.

Our levees held. Our preparations were solid. And most of us simply know better than to live in the path of the mighty Mississippi.

Even the purely stupid actions of two Vidalia teenagers who tempted fate by simply going for a swim were negated by the heroics of men.

We’ll have some erosion, sure. More money will need to be spent. And some businesses are suffering.

But, this time, we won.

The Miss-Lou residents of 1927 and 1937 would be in awe. Our experts have seemingly tamed the wild waters that controlled their lives each spring. We don’t run from the water; we go toward it to take photos.

But our 1927 and 1937 friends would likely speak some words of caution.

“Sounds too good to be true.”

“Don’t tempt fate.”

“I wouldn’t mess with Mother Nature,” they might say.

And they’d be right.

We won this time. We might win next time.

But I think we all know that Mother Nature is as strong as she wants to be.

Sooner or later, our luck is bound to run out.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or