River level below 48 ft. flood stage

Published 12:05 am Thursday, June 23, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Kerry Kaiser, left, and Ed Daly jog up Silver Street Wednesday afternoon in Natchez. The water level of the Mississippi River has dropped significantly since mid-May, allowing businesses to operate as normal.

VIDALIA — Miss-Lou residents woke to a sight they haven’t seen since the end of April on Wednesday morning when the mighty Mississippi River finally dropped below 48 feet on the Natchez gauge.

After nearly two months above flood stage, the waters sat at 47.95 feet early Wednesday, bringing along with it a shared sigh of relief from the area’s leaders.

“We can all breathe a little easier, that’s for sure,” Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said. “Everyone is back and doing business, and I am glad about that.”

Email newsletter signup

During the two months of high waters, Middleton said he and the city’s employees had very little time to think about the flooding situation.

“We were all so busy trying to prepare, that I don’t think a lot of people had time to actually sit and think about what was going on,” he said. “We just knew what we had to do, and we got it done.”

City Engineer David Gardner said it was a sense of calm from the city that shone through into the flood preparations.

“I think that the city handled everything really well and worked together really well,” he said. “I think everyone had a sense of pride, and you could tell it by the way our employees went out and did what they had to do.”

Water lines on the buildings at the River View RV Park in Vidalia show where the water once reached.

Even with the threat gone, Gardner said Natchez has a lot of work to do cleaning up and recovering from the high water.

“We are starting to see a lot of the effects of the flood now,” he said.

Gardner said there is erosion undermining the gutter and drainage areas along the approximate 4,000-foot stretch of land at the base of Roth Hill.

“With everything we have going on right now, we haven’t done any repair work on Roth Hill yet,” he said. “But we are eventually going to have to fix it.”

Gardner said Natchez is also going to have to replace street lights on Silver Street because the high water levels damaged their foundations.

“Some of the foundations just aren’t level,” he said. “We can fix that, we just have to get around to it.”

Gardner said Natchez has a number of small projects spread throughout the city that will be dealt with over time.

“This is a slow process,” he said.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland much work remains on the Louisiana side of the river as well.

“It was a tremendous experience, but during that time of disaster we learned to all work and come together and survive, ” he said. “But we are not out of the woods. We are looking forward and just trying to get back to normal.”

Copeland said Vidalia still has to remove the Hesco Bastion instant levees, evaluate the damage to the city and continue cleaning up from the high water.

“It is going to be busy for the next few months,” he said.

Concordia Parish Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington said the parish is also working to move back in residents who lived near Minorca, Deer Park and Old River on the riverside of the levee who lost or received damage to their homes during the flood.

Ferrington said there are approximately 150 homes in the area that received damage, and that while most of them are hunting camps or summer homes, approximately 30 percent of the houses were permanent residences.

“I am positive that 100 percent of all the houses out there received some damage, and a lot of those are completely destroyed,” he said.

Ferrington said the homeowners have to abide by strict rules and regulations to receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Association, and the parish is working with FEMA officials to get residents back in their homes as quickly as possible.

Ferrington said there will be a special meeting on FEMA assistance June 28 for those residents who had any flood damage.

Recovery is the last piece in the flood puzzle, and Copeland said the Miss-Lou will be able to look back on the 2011 flood to see where improvements need to be made in case another similar disaster ever hits the area.

“There is an old saying that says you learn from your mistakes,” he said. “There are some areas we see we can improve in, and we are going to start looking into them now.”

Copeland said improving on the flood prevention process as a whole will be a great start to helping avoid another major flood threat.

“Hopefully we can start preparing for this in the near future,” he said.

Ferrington said he thought the parish did all it could.

“We are about as prepared as you can be for an event like this,” he said. “This is something we have never seen or dealt with before, and something we hope never happens again.”

Middleton said the City of Natchez is going to have to make some changes in its sewage system to deal with another high flood stage.

“The sewer lines are what caused us the most problems,” he said.

Middleton said since treated water from the city’s sewer lines drain into the river, their route had to be changed.

“We had to get a permit to run those pipes into St. Catherine Creek,” he said. “If not for that we would have been in serious trouble.”

Middleton said the city hopes to improve the pumping stations Under-the-Hill to cope with the high water.

“When you operate a business, every day you shut down is an inconvenience, and is a cost to the business owner,” he said.

With the high waters slowly moving out of the minds of area residents and into the history books, Copeland said the whole experience was chocked full of emotion.

“It went from thoughts of great concern to now realizing that we came through this and did so in relatively good condition,” he said. “I know Vidalia is satisfied with the way things wound up happening.”

Gardner said he was just glad to finally not have to deal with flood talks anymore.

“This whole process was just cumbersome and a huge burden to a group of people who already had a full plate of work in front of them,”

he said.

“These (city employees) really stood up, and I take my hat off to them. We worked late and we worked weekends, and I never heard a complaint from any one of them.”

Gardner said the Miss-Lou couldn’t have escaped unharmed without a strong cooperative effort from both sides of the river.

“The level of cooperation between the two sides of the river was tremendous,” he said. “It was unheard of, there were no boundaries. There was nothing stopping anyone from making something happen.”

Gardner also said the river fight would not have been successful without the support of the caring individuals who did whatever they could to help their cities.