Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Before the Crest: the Great Mississippi River Flood of 2011 in Vicksburg

The water is rising and, as of May 10, 2011, has exceeded all historical river elevations in Vicksburg. Fortunately, unlike a tsunami situation, there has been plenty of warning about the approach of the flood crest and industries and the City of Vicksburg have been preparing.

The Anderson Tully wood products company was inundated in the 1973 flood. A retired worker told me that it took five years to dry out the timber. To prevent future flooding, the company built a levee around the mill after 1973. But for the last week, a fleet of trucks has been delivering dirt and clay, and the levee is being extensively raised. The photograph above was Sunday, May 8.

Redwood Elementary School, in Redwood, north of Vicksburg, was vulnerable to water backing up a creek that runs behind the school. To protect it, the school department hired a contractor to build a levee. This was a significant berm, over 2 m high for much of its extent.

The students evacuated the school and will finish the year at another facility. They piled books and materials in the auditorium (Friday, May 6).

Most of Vicksburg was built on the loess bluffs, high above the river. The city waterfront, where steamboats unloaded and warehouses were located, historically flooded. To protect the waterfront, the Corps of Engineers built concrete flood walls early in the 20th century and greatly expanded them after the 1927 flood, which overtopped the earlier walls. But roads and railroads need to pass through the wall in several locations. These gaps in the walls are plugged with wood timbers held in place by steel I-beams. The city workers have to dig down into the pavement to find the anchor points for the I-beams. The timbers are sealed with oakum and tar and chained down (Friday, May 6). Later, the city workers found that plastic sheeting was more effective at preventing seepage.

I have never before seen the timber walls installed to their full height, flush with the concrete walls. The timbers have never been tested to hold back three meters of water. The gate above is at Levee Street near the old railroad depot. Sadly, the depot, which is being renovated to become part of the river museum, is on the unprotected side of the flood wall.


The Ford subdivision off North Washington Street has been prone to flooding for decades. Over the last five years, the City has bought many of the low houses (the ones built on slabs) and demolished them, but there are still many residents who have to evacuate. The views above are from Railroad Alley, taken Friday, May 6.

The car, which is rapidly losing its patch of pavement, is on Eva Street (Friday, May 6).

This is Ford Street, looking towards the west (Friday, May 6). In previous inundations, residents told me that cleanup was always a messy business, and they had to call the rangers to take away snakes and alligators.
Across the river in Delta, Louisiana, this is the view from the levee facing east towards the old Mississippi River bridge. Normally, the terrain in the foreground is dry. The bridge still carries Kansas Southern Railroad trains, but the automobile road is closed.

Please see the subsequent blog articles to read about the progress of the historic 2011 flood.

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