Record-breaking flood predicted

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, April 26, 2011

File photo — In 2008 the Mississippi River crested at 57.03 feet, covering Silver Street and closing the Isle of the Capri Casino. The crest for this year is predicted to be 60 feet, the highest stage on record.

NATCHEZ — Less than one month after the Mississippi River crested over a foot and a half above flood stage in Natchez at 49.8 feet, the National Weather Service in Jackson is predicting another crest in the river for May that has the area preparing for the worst — a river level of 60 feet.

A flood warning will go into effect Sunday for the Mississippi River at Natchez and will remain in place until further notice, according to the NWS.

The river sat at 45.5 feet Monday afternoon, and flood stage is 48 feet. The river is expected to rise above flood stage by Sunday morning and will continue to rise to near 60 feet by May 20, the NWS said.

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The projected level of 60 feet is almost a two feet above the highest known river stage for the Natchez-Vidalia area, which happened in 1937 when the river rose to 58.04 feet.

NWS forecaster Jared Allen said the predicted rise stems from a stagnant storm system in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys in the middle of the country.

“There are some very severe and heavy thunderstorms projected for the next three to four days in those valleys,” he said. “We are projecting between eight to 10 inches of rain to accumulate in those days.”

Allen also said storm systems moving through Mississippi and Louisiana this week will also leave help raise the river level.

“North of I-20, they are looking at eight to 10 inches as well, while south of I-20, they are looking at anywhere from one to five inches of rain,” he said. “It is going to most likely be around an inch of rainfall, but really up north is where the totals will rack up.”

With a record-setting river level projected, city officials on both sides of the river are working to get both cities prepared.

“At 59 feet, Silver Street, Cooper Street and D.A. Biglane Street will be completely cut off,” Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said. “You won’t be able to go through them at all.”

Gardner said with Silver Street and D.A. Biglane Street in danger of flooding, the Isle of Capri Casino is in danger of being shut down.

“This happened a few years ago, and we had to shut them down when the river was even lower than it is projected this year,” he said. “That is going to put some major implications on the casino.”

Gardner said the city has a meeting with the casino today to discuss what to do if the river rises that high.

“We are going to be looking at all the different scenarios depending on the river stage,” he said. “What the city and the casino need to do is safeguard everybody.”

Two residents live on Cooper Street on the north side of Natchez off Learneds Mill Road, and Gardner said they are in severe danger of flood damage.

“They will be completely cut off down there,” he said.

Gardner said low-lying farms near Anna’s Bottom will also be in danger.

Gardner said Jones Lumber Mill on Government Fleet Road will also have to be watched very closely, even though they have a levee protecting them from damage.

Vidalia Street Department Director Lee Staggs said the riverfront is the only real area of concern for Vidalia residents.

“Our drainage from the Riverfront goes into the river, and at around 54 feet the water starts to back that drainage up,” he said. “This happened to us in 2008 when the river got up to 57 feet.”

Staggs said after the 2008 incident the city has been working on a plan to solve this problem.

“When it gets to the point where it needs to be fixed, we will put our plan in motion,” he said.

Staggs said the city’s plan involves plugging some of the drains and also using pumps to remove any excess water.

Even with such a high stage projected, Staggs said the levees built around Vidalia should keep the rest of the city safe.

“The main problem we have with the levee is seepage from underneath it when the level gets high,” he said. “We will be checking it regularly to make sure everything is under control.”

Gardner said such a high rise this early in the year is another area of concern for Miss-Lou residents.

“It could go even higher if they get more rain in the upper valleys than they are expecting,” he said.

With less than three weeks remaining until the projected crest, both Gardner and Staggs are crossing their fingers and hoping their planning will pay off.

“It’s hard to fight the river,” Staggs said. “But we always have a plan of action, and we are always preparing for the worst.”

Concordia Parish Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington said some areas on the riverside of the levee in the parish, including Minorca Road, Deer Park and Old River areas, will also see damage.

“There is really nothing you can do for those area,” he said.

Ferrington said homes and camps in that area have had problems with flooding before, and that is part of the danger of having a home not protected by a levee.

“All we can do is just try to keep watch on it and hope for the best,” he said.

Ferrington said another problem that arises from unprotected homes flooding is theft.

“It’s a shame to say it, but you will have people come through the area and steal some items from the homes,” he said.

With the levels beginning to rise, Ferrington said the rest of the parish should be fine.

“We have been working very hard to get everything in line with the levee over the past five years,” he said.