The water's gone, but many troubles remain

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

There is an eerie stillness in the landscape that has been underwater for the past several months in the recent backwater flood areas. The smell of stagnant water and rotting animal carcasses float through the air. What once appeared like an ocean in the rural communities now resembles a desert wasteland.

And the people of this land are beginning to rebuild their lives amidst uncertainty of what the future may hold.

This is the forgotten flood. And residents and supporters of the long overdue pumping stations don’t want you to forget about them.

Waiting on assessments and potential government assistance, the South Delta communities are slowly returning to their lives as the floodwaters creep away from their homes, businesses and farms.

However, the people of this land do not want the campaign to construct the pumping stations to slow down. As the waters recede and coverage of the floodwaters may decline, those in support of the stations do not want their cause to be forgotten.

Their communities, businesses, money and lifestyle depend on it.

Billy Ables, who turns 80 years old in January, has lived about nine miles outside of Holly Bluff for his entire life. He has witnessed other floods in the area. But there is something about the recent backwater flooding that frustrates him.

“I know when I see a man-made problem,” he said. “We are the only ones who have not got the pumping stations. It’s because we are Mississippi. We’re the end of the world and any list here.”

Ables remembers when the flood of 1973 hit the area. He said although that flood was a hard one to endure, it doesn’t have anything on this backwater flood.

“The water in ’73 came up, but it went down,” he said. “We still planted crops out here in ’73. But this water has stayed out here for six months.”

Ables said it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out the problem. He recalls when his father, Edward Ables, confronted officials during the construction of the levees in the 1970s and 1980s.

“My daddy couldn’t read or write,” Ables said. “They were out here building the levees towards the back of his house on his place. He told them that they needed to cut out a ditch, and he was told ‘that’s impossible.’ My daddy said, ‘get your butt in this truck, and I’m gonna show you impossible.’ He had enough common sense to know which direction water runs. But all this we are dealing with now is man-made. It didn’t have to happen if they would have just finished getting us our pumps.”

Junae Brooks is the owner of Junae’s Grocery in Holly Bluff. For the past three years, she has opened her store for the community. She said her business is the place for locals to shop without having to drive miles into neighboring towns.

Brooks re-opened her store Monday after being forced to close on June 20 as a result of the backwater flood.

“We were losing money,” she said. “All the access roads were closed. None of our farmers were working. It was literally one way in and one way out of Holly Bluff.”

Brooks said she has lost about $7,000 a month since January because of the backwater flood limiting access to her store. That’s a total of about $49,000; a big financial hit for a country store.

“We have dealt with this as best we could,” Ables said. “We have all been busy helping one another. That’s natural for us.”

Driving through the rural land, the fields that would have been flourishing with crops look like a desert. The land is barren, scattered with a few bodies of rotting hog or deer carcasses. Snakes can be seen slithering across roads that were underwater until recently. There is a stench in the air. And some homes look like abandoned structures with water marks and mold splattered across their surface.

But there is still life within these small communities. Store signs are beginning to reappear. Roads that were once only accessible by boat or tractor now have vehicles on them.

And families are starting to re-emerge to see what condition the floodwaters have left their homes.

They have not forgotten the flood. And they are determined to make sure the rest of the world hasn’t either.