Year 2008 in review; weather tops news in Miss-Lou

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 1, 2009

Maybe the end of the world IS coming.

Residents in the Miss-Lou couldn’t help but say it this year as weather woe after weather woe swept through town.

Mother Nature was nicest in January when she brought a nice layer of snow to the Miss-Lou.

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But the niceness ended there.

In March, the Mississippi River hit flood stage and kept going. The waters eventually covered Silver Street, forcing the closure of the Isle of Capri Casino for weeks and Magnolia Grill for a few days.

In Concordia Parish, residents living on the wrong side of the levee had to leave their homes. Farm animals and hunters saw their fields and camps completely submerged. And the water seemed to lap at the base of the newly constructed Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

Finally, on April 21 the river crested at 56.97 feet, a crest height second only to the 58.04 feet flood of 1937.

The water stayed high for weeks, eroding parts of the Vidalia riverfront underneath it.

Then on Sept. 1, Mother Nature unleashed. Hurricane Gustav spared cities normally in the path of hurricanes, but apparently found a resting place in Adams County.

High winds toppled trees, which tore down power lines. All five electrical transmission lines that feed into the area were damaged. The city and county went totally black.

Several downtown buildings suffered structural damage, and many houses were crushed by trees their limbs.

Gas stations and grocery stores were forced to close until their electricity returned.

By the start of the next week, most locals had electricity again, but cleanup for some continues today.

And just a few weeks ago, Natchez was again on the receiving end of Mother Nature’s wrath.

An F1 tornado carved a path from Lower Woodville Road to Liberty Road, damaging numerous houses and buildings in its path. Strong winds surrounding the tornado also caused damage in other parts of town.

Crime and courts

In the early months of 2008, Natchez was a community on edge.

A rash of home invasion burglaries that began in December 2007 was ongoing.

Someone was breaking into occupied homes during the night and taking what they could find.

The police had no solid leads.

Panic culminated on New Year’s Day when a local resident accidentally shot and killed his wife because he thought someone had broken into his home.

The break-ins continued and rumors began flying about suspects.

In March, two men were arrested on burglary charges. Police never said the men were responsible for the home invasions, but they did say they fit the descriptions given by several witnesses.

After the men were jailed, the home invasions stopped.

Concordia Parish residents saw closure to a dark moment this year when teenager Conner Wood was found guilty of murdering his parents and a friend.

Wood was given three life sentences for the deaths of John and Geraldine Wood and Matthew Whittington.

The jury deliberated for only 25 minutes before returning the verdict in April.

City and county

It was a mayoral election year in Natchez, and voters opted to trade incumbent Phillip West for long-time alderman Jake Middleton.

Middleton defeated West in the primary and defeated independent challenger Chick Graning in the June general election.

Middleton ran on a platform of improving recreation, consolidating city and county law enforcement offices, improving infrastructure and partnering with Corrections Corporation of America to clean up the main entryways to Natchez.

In county government, the financial struggles of Natchez Regional Medical Center filled the year.

In February the hospital board announced the hospital was in serious financial trouble. They said major changes would have to occur.

In May, the county and hospital board announced plans to sell NRMC and begin a series of layoffs.

A few days later, 65 employees were without work.

Currently, the hospital is in negotiations with bidders interested in buying NRMC.

At the pump and in the woods

Economically, 2008 wasn’t pretty. Though Natchez remained somewhat sheltered from some economic woes for much of the year, the pain at the gas pump was evident.

In June gas prices surpassed $4 a gallon.

But this fall, the prices dropped below $2.

While drivers were hunting the best prices around, a hunter of a different kind was making a home in the woods around Natchez.

Believe it or not, the presence of a cougar in Adams County made news in 2008.

A summer sighting made way for multiple sightings throughout the fall. Finally, a group of people spotted the animal behind a local apartment complex. But no one had a camera.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has yet to confirm the sightings, but has been looking.

Top national headlines — including the election of Barack Obama and the failing economy — had their impact in the Miss-Lou as well.