By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Mary Catherine Brooks, extension associate at the Delta Research and Extension Center, spoke at the Delta Ag Expo on her experiences photographing damage from the 2019 flooding in the South Delta.
The Mississippi Levee Board reports that the rainfall from April 2018 to March 2019 was the highest for any 12-month period in the United States in the Ohio Valley, the Midwest and the Northeast since 1895.
The geography of the country is such that all of that water drains through the Mississippi River, and there was too much water for the system designed to prevent flooding to handle.
“I’ve seen more plumbing maps, levee maps and inundation maps than I can recall but not being a Delta native, I don’t really have too much experience with flooding and never really understood the severity of the flooding that our neighbors were facing in the South Delta until this past year,” said Brooks.
There saw 548,000 acres of land flooded, including 231,000 acres of crop land, taking a big chunk out of Mississippi’s farming season.
Brooks said there were 686 recorded homes lost to the floods but that number is likely low.
There are still multiple studies being conducted to determine the economic impact of the flood, as well as work on the long-term environmental impact.
Brooks’ work over the last year helped shed a light on the costs beyond what has been seen on balance sheets.
Over the course of seven months, Brooks took photos of the damage and allowed residents to tell their stories which she has posted on the Forgotten Backwater Flood page on Facebook.
“I kind of had that mindset of like the rest of the United States,” Brooks said. “A couple of hundred people (affected), a couple of inches (of water) in their house, and insurance covers it. No, no. I was very disturbed after my very first day of going down there.
“I was very disturbed. It seemed like every half mile down the road there was a deer, a raccoon, there was something dead laying on the side of the road, and not from drowning, but from the animals being pushed up to high land and the highway was basically the only high land in that area, and so of course they get pushed to the highway and they get run over.”
Brooks took photos of numerous starving animals and witnessed one deer so weak from malnutrition that it collapsed from exhaustion when a bird landed on its back.
“On (highway) 465, a cemetery was submerged for so long that when the water went down, all the graves had shifted under the ground. You had the big humps from where the graves were a couple of feet away from where the headstones were.”
Brooks visited Eagle Lake in May after a storm broke through several manmade levees that were holding back the backwater.
Without the manmade levees, and adding in the intensity of the storm, the backwater ended up equalizing with the lake and destroying hundreds of homes.
“I was interviewing one lady at Eagle Lake who is a school bus driver who was talking about her total bus route all day was six hours long where it was maybe two hours before the water,” said Brooks.
“This bus has to travel through a four-county area to get from Eagle Lake to Vicksburg which should be a 30-minute drive. These poor little kids are having to get up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning to get up to go get on this bus to drive all the way through several counties to get to school and then imagine that bus ride back in the evening.
“I never thought about the stress it puts on these kids. Think about kids having to get up and boat out or get on a tractor and then get in a vehicle and then go up to high ground so a bus could get to them.”
Recent rainfall has the Mississippi River rising, and Brooks encountered many people who supported the installation of the Yazoo Backwater pumps project, which would help drain excess water into the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi Levee Board estimates that had the Yazoo pumps existed, 194,000 fewer acres would have been flooded.
Mississippi representatives are still working with the federal government to bring a resolution to the issue. The Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the pumps project in 2008.