Flood changed families’ lives forever

Published 12:02 am Sunday, May 20, 2012

What a difference a year makes! Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the historic Mississippi River flood crest.

Yesterday the Mississippi River level stood at approximately 28.5 feet below the level it was at a year ago.

It’s easy for most of us to look back at the Great Flood of 2011 and think, “We made it through that one” and sort of dismiss the flood’s full impact, particularly if we live on higher ground or were not directly involved in the flood fight.

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But for dozens and dozens of area families, the flood cost them real dollars and took a toll on their families, their businesses and their livelihoods.

The three most visibly affected families were deep in the heart of the flood battle, however. For them as the river’s crest forecast floated higher, their normal world stopped and the battle against the river took over their lives.

From a bird’s-eye view, their collective battle created a triangle across the river.

To the south, just below the bridge on the Natchez side, the Jones family operates J.M. Jones Lumber.

Straight up the river, staying on the Natchez side, the Biglane family owns the majority of the structures on Silver Street at Natchez Under-the-Hill.

Looking nearly straight across the river from Silver Street, the Jenkins family owns and operates Vidalia Dock and Storage on the Louisiana side.

Watching the three families’ plight was, perhaps, the saddest and in some ways most inspiring parts of the entire flood.

The Jones family was battling around the clock to shore up their homemade levee protecting their property.

Most outside observers were predicting it would just be a matter of time before the levee broke and the lumberyard succumbed to the river’s power.

Ironically, the yard’s very location mimics the reason our entire community exists where it is — years ago the lumber company needed the river to transport logs.

Likewise, our community grew in population because of the use of the river for transportation and commerce.

Fortunately, through their Herculean efforts J.M. Jones survived the flood. They did so only by their unflappable determination, hard work and the grace of God.

The Biglane family’s effort to protect their property was also an important action to protect some of Natchez’s most historic structures, too. They worked tirelessly to build temporary levees around the property to stave off the rising water.

For the Jenkins family, once they knew the river level predictions were going to hit record highs, they knew their location — right in the curve of the river as it bends around Vidalia — would make them ground zero for the powerful surge of the river.

They eventually decided to evacuate their buildings only to return weeks and weeks later after the floodwaters had receded.

They’ve since renovated their property and are back in business again.

As we think back to the tremendously stressful flood last year, our community is lucky and blessed that we dodged a big bullet. Despite the highest ever recorded waters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers main levees held. We are all thankful for that.

I’m thankful that our community has good, hard-working, never-give-up people like the families who fought the floodwaters and were directly impacted.

For those families, the flood wasn’t a natural oddity; it was a life-changing milestone that will mark their history forever.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.