Miss-Lou prepares for flood in unity

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 12, 2011

VIDALIA — Since the first news of the Mississippi River’s record-breaking river levels hit in the Miss-Lou, officials on both sides of the river have worked frantically to plan and prepare residents for the worst.

With the work walling in the infrastructure on the Vidalia Riverfront and Silver Street in Natchez complete, the Miss-Lou Steering committee met Wednesday morning to discuss continuing efforts by the both states preparing for the possible flood.

“The purpose of the Steering committee is to work together for economic development in the area,” Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial Development District Executive Director Heather Malone said. “But now, we all know the issue at hand, and this is the perfect opportunity to bring us together for preparedness and recovery in the event that something should happen.”

Email newsletter signup

Malone and approximately 40 other elected officials, utility workers and city employees from the Miss-Lou all spoke on the importance of working together during these trying times.

“We have really come together, and that is really what this committee is all about,” Malone said. “We need to continue to keep people up to date. What holes are in our plans, and what can we do to fix them?”

Concordia Parish Emergency Management Director Morris White said flood preparations are in good shape.

“The people that work here know what they are doing,” he said. “We already have the plans for where you need to go in case there is an emergency, and we have people monitoring things around the clock.”

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the levee systems that were built around the Riverfront are also in excellent condition, which is good news considering how close the water is to touching land.

“We have water getting right up near the riverwalk today,” he said. “We are expecting it to be in the streets on the riverfront within the next two to four days.”

Copeland did say he has been getting calls about water in the parish, but said it is of no worry to residents.

“This is just seepage water from the levee, and we are getting a tremendous amount of that,” he said. “It will always be this way. Anytime the river gets high, we have this problem.”

Copeland said while it doesn’t mean a levee break is coming, the seepage water will continue to pop up throughout the parish until the water begins to decline.

One area of concern for the levee system is sand boils, Concordia Parish Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington said.

Even with the concern, Louisiana National Guard Lt. Terry Lee Bacon said sand boils should not cause any severe problems.

“When you hear the term sand boil, you immediately think the worst,” he said. “But in 1997, the levee system had around 580 sand boils, and in 2008 there were 10.”

Bacon said the strength of the levee has been improved tremendously over the years, and has only gotten stronger since 2008.

“The levee board and the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) have worked hard on this levee,” he said.

Another area of concern the group addressed during the meeting was the evacuation of small businesses in the area during a disaster.

Even though the area is currently not in an evacuation mode, Natchez Inc. Director Chandler Russ said it is still affecting businesses.

“It will affect them whether or not one drop hits any levee,” he said.

Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin said his town has already been affected by businesses leaving.

“Family Dollar has been sitting there for the past week with nothing going on,” he said. “That is money we are losing.”

To help small businesses plans in case of an emergency, Louisiana Small Business Development representative Barry Parker will be in Concordia Parish for the next few days to help provide important information on how to avoid disaster.

“About 40 percent of small businesses fail after going through a disaster,” Parker said.

Parker will be presenting information to small businesses about having a plan, a kit in case of a disaster and a checklist of things each business needs to do before they leave for a disaster.

Malone said a video presentation has been made and will be available at the Concordia Chamber of Commerce’s website for anyone to view.

Louisiana Economic Development representative Jared Smith said his office has been contacting businesses in the affected area to sign them up for an alert system in case there is an emergency.

Smith said there are approximately 200 businesses signed up for the alerts, and he hopes there are many more.

“You will get texts or calls about any updates,” he said. “

The area was declared a disaster area by the Federal Emergency Management Agency late Wednesday, something that Adams County Emergency Management Director Stan Owens said he was expecting.

“Concordia Parish should not be far behind,” he said.

Owens said when an area is declared a disaster by FEMA, it is subject to reimbursement for any expenses they accrued preparing for an emergency.

“They will probably go back retroactive to April 22 with reimbursement,” he said.

In order to be refunded for these purchases, Copeland said everyone needs to remember to keep detailed records of their expenses.

“Documentation, documentation, documentation,” he said. “Keep your records. We have to hope we get our money back.”

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said during his previous experience with reimbursements from FEMA, summaries of expenses do not work.

“You better keep up with everything, including hourly labor, down to a cent,” he said.

The county and parish both had to borrow a sandbagging machine to prepare for this years high waters, and Natchez City Engineer David Gardner suggested that each city, parish, town and county in the Miss-Lou pool funds together to purchase a machine to be shared by everyone.

Gardner said a new machine would cost approximately $65,000 to $80,000.

Mayors from each city agreed the idea was something they needed to look into, and a purchase in the near future may be covered by FEMA.

Officials continued to urge residents to sign up for the Code Red emergency warning system and to remember to avoid listening to rumors.

“That is still the No. 1 problem we are having,” Copeland said. “If there is any new information or an emergency, you will be notified.”