Flood fight 2011: By the numbers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Hesco Bastion baskets have, thus far, protected Vidalia Riverfront buildings, like the Comfort Inn and Suites, from floodwaters.

NATCHEZ — Trying to get an accounting for the flood of 2011 is a hard thing to do.

The numbers for some flood-related factors are easy enough to pin down.

Thus far, in Vidalia 18,000 feet of Hesco Bastion baskets — also known as instant levees — have been used, City Manager Ken Walker said.

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Each unit — five baskets, each three feet wide by three feet long by four feet tall — costs just over $400, sand not included, Hesco Bastion Senior Technical Representative Dennis Barkemeyer said. But the City of Vidalia did not foot the approximately $500,000 bill.

The Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness covered the costs, Walker said.

Likewise, 20,000 cubic yards of sand have been imported for the flood fight, and Concordia Parish Emergency Management Director Morris White said more than 200,000 sandbags have been brought in and placed in the parish.

“How many sandbags have we brought in?” White said. “You might as well ask how many pebbles are on a sand beach.”

Another 6,000 feet of the Hesco units were purchased by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and places on top of the levee on Louisiana 15 south of Vidalia.

In Natchez, City Engineer David Gardner said their sandbag total wasn’t quite as high as Vidalia’s — only between 45,000 and 50,000.

The Hesco baskets — 2,000 feet purchased by the property owner — holding the water back at Natchez Under-the-Hill hold approximately 1,500 cubic yards of sand, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started placing 150 tons of riprap on the riverbank Under-the-Hill Tuesday.

Other numbers, however, depend on what the river will do from here on out.

For example, more than 2.5 million cubic feet of water per second was passing Natchez and Vidalia as the swollen Mississippi River thundered downstream at its crest this weekend.

But other numbers associated with the flood will not likely be known for sure.

Vidalia logged 1,347 hours of flood-fight related overtime in the two-week pay period at the start of the flood fight, equaling just under $100,000, Walker said.

But, he said, that’s money the city thinks will be reimbursed by FEMA.

“We are focusing on doing all the paperwork right and following the rules and regulations (of FEMA) so we’ll be ready,” he said.

In addition 125 inmates worked each shift around the clock for five days constructing the Hesco walls on the riverfront.

Natchez is in a similar boat, Gardner said.

City crews were initially used to fill sandbags, but then the Corrections Corporation of America allowed them to use inmates to fill the bags.

“That has been a lifesaver for us, because it allowed us to free our crews to put up the bags where they need to be,” Gardner said.

Total man hours at this point would only be a guess, with crews — and inmates — not working around the clock but putting in more than eight-hour workdays for 20 straight days as the flood fight has escalated, Gardner said.

And the total cost of the flood, including damages can’t be known at the present, Walker said.

“We won’t know the total infrastructure cost until the waters recede,” he said.

“At this point, there is still so much uncertainty that we have to wait and see what the damage is going to be before it is over.”