Faces of the forgotten flood

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

They are struggling to save their homes and property. They are losing sleep at night wondering if the rising waters will wash away what they have created. They are staring at consumed crop fields, aware that their income is lost. They are helping their neighbors cope with defeat as they are cut off from the rest of the world.

They are the faces of the forgotten backwater flood.

“This did not have to happen,” said Clay Adcock. “This should have been a non-event.”

Writing lawmakers to beg for completion of the Congress-approved pumping plant, they are frustrated and angry over what they believe could have been a preventable catastrophe. And as the flood waters continue to rise, so does their fight to save their homeland.

“We’ve been told just to leave the area,” Adcock said. “But we are talking about people’s livelihood. This place is where we live, work and have created our lives. That is insensitive to ask us just to walk away.”

Yazoo County’s Delta region has struggled with floods before. History traces similar circumstances, but this time the residents are ready to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire.

The plan was approved by Congress in the 1940s to install levees, gates and pumping plants. However, with war conflicts and other outside forces, the project did not really get near completion until decades later. The levees and gates were completed. But the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the project, leaving the pumps uncompleted.

Members of the Holly Bluff community have put their lives on hold over the last several days as the flood waters continue to consume the tight-knit region. Families are building sandbag walls around their homes. Farmers are moving their equipment to higher ground as their crop fields go under water. Bulldozers are moving to construct levees around homes and properties. Meals are being distributed. Neighbors are constantly checking on each other. And some residents are staying in their life-long homes as the waters surround them like islands in the sea.

Paulette Gordon has lived in her Holly Bluff home since 1977. She and her late husband Glynn built the home with their own two hands. The Gordon family grew up in Holly Bluff and never wanted to leave.

“Even as my husband was battling cancer, he wanted to die here,” Paulette said. “He died last June. Everything has hit this year without him. He took care of everything, but I have the community making sure I am doing all right.”

Paulette will not leave her home that is filled with memories of her late husband and from raising her children there.

“I feel my husband here in this home,” she said. “If I have to leave, I would be leaving that connection to him. I am not leaving that.”

Paulette said the community has stood together as they deal with the backwater flood. Even during her interview with The Herald, neighbors came inside her home to check on her.

Paulette is as equally frustrated about the lack of pumps as her community.

“It is a shame that they have not put those pumps in for us,” she said. “Some politicians’ mindset is ‘well, y’all just need to move.’ We cannot just leave our homes, our lives, our community.”

Paulette said the economic impact of the flood is also a major issue. With the local agriculture operations at a standstill, she said the farms that drive the local economy will not be profitable and many people will be out of work.

“It is a ripple effect,” she said. “If the land goes, there goes the farms, the hunting, the money coming in and going out. This affects the economy, even for those not directly associated with farming.”

Even with sandbags surrounding her home and the water creeping into her backyard, Paulette is staying.

“I dearly love this community, and I hate to see it die,” she said. “It wouldn’t have to die if they would just put the pumps in.”

David Sellers has lived in Holly Bluff for nearly three decades.

“I haven’t seen anything like this since the flood of 1973,” he said.

And many residents feel like the Holly Bluff community is cut off from the rest of the world. With waters covering many of the roads, it takes much longer to find a way in and out of the area.

Adcock has raised his family and created the life they wanted in their Holly Bluff home. He is a farmer who will not have a corn crop this year. He has 4,000 acres underwater, and he has also spent $17,000 constructing levees.

“Planting corn is now not going to happen,” he said. “It’s too late. Even with the water staying at the level it is now, it will still be here for three to four weeks. And that is not considering the additional rainfall.”

And the rain waters began pounding again Thursday.

Adcock is one of many urging lawmakers to rescind the EPA veto of the pumping plant project authorized by Congress.

“Currently, the South Delta Area is facing the largest flood since the 1970s with completion of all features of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta plan authorized by the federal government to protect life and property, except one – the Yazoo Backwater Pumping Plant,” Adcock said. “Without the pumping plant in place, floodwaters will continue to devastate the South Delta region. This is our ninth separate flood event since 2008 that has cost more than $400 million in that timeframe alone. This year’s flood will inundate more than 500,000 acres of land in six counties and cost even more money and wreak misery on the people that live and do business in our region.”

Adcock is pleading with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, Sen. Roger Wicker and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith to push for the recension of the EPA halt.

“We urge our Congressional Delegation to continue their efforts to get the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind their misguided 2008 veto of the project and/or work to achieve Congressional direction to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately begin constructing the final piece of the authorized Yazoo Basin and Mississippi River and Tributaries plans,” he said. “Without this final piece in place, the United States government has effectively abandoned an entire region of the country and will continue to make us vulnerable in the coming years.”

Abandoned is a word that regularly appears when residents are describing how they feel about the federal government’s failure to complete the plan that could have spared them all of this misery, but they’ll never abandoned their beloved home.