As the 1 in 500 years flood snakes down to Louisiana, creating a predicted humanitarian disaster resulting in tens of thousands of evacuees, mandatory evacuations have begun and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has stated his intentions to deploy some 150 National Guard members to assist in responding. The governor has asked President Obama for a disaster declaration for the state due to “predicted and imminent record flooding.”
“The Mississippi River had risen to dangerous levels in several areas in Louisiana, Jindal said, and 14 parishes were under a state of emergency.” (CNN)
Flood waters have toppled “at least one levee” prompting an official mandatory evacuation order affecting about 1,000 residents from east-central Arkansas. These first towns of evacuees include Cotton Plant, Gregory and McClelland.
The floods of historical proportions also threaten states hardest hit with tornadoes late April: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee. Weather officials have thus far confirmed 178 tornadoes hit the South and Midwest between April 27-28 but the official total could exceed 300. The twisters caused at least 345 deaths, most of which were in Alabama.
The heavy water-logged region encompasses the New Madrid Seismic Zone, adding stress to it and to area residents.
More levees could be blasted. Good Environment reports that “the National Weather Service is predicting record or near-record flood levels in towns all the way down through Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The Army Corps is already discussing “opening up more floodways,” or blasting other levees to ease the main surge.”
Jeff Masters has explained that Lower Mississippi River levees “are meant to withstand a ‘Project Flood’—the type of flood the Army Corps of Engineers believes is the maximum flood that could occur on the river, equivalent to a 1-in-500 year flood.”
Project Flood history
All of the levees were built after the Great Flood of 1927—the deadly made famous in the song When the Levee Breaks.
In winter 1926-27, southern rains were so heavy, the Mississippi River overflowed the banks, flooding the west in Oklahoma and Kansas, to the east, Illinois and Kentucky.
On Good Friday, April 15, 1927, the Memphis Commercial Appeal warned:
“The roaring Mississippi River, bank and levee full from St. Louis to New Orleans, is believed to be on its mightiest rampage…All along the Mississippi considerable fear is felt over the prospects for the greatest flood in history.”
In 1928, reacting to the Great Flood of 1927, US Congress enacted the Jadwin plan, still in place today, and the Corps of Engineers called the system “Project Flood.” The Corps assured the public that its changes would protect the lower Missisippi River from a flood even greater than that in 1927. The Jadwin plan established standards for today’s levees that are higher and thicker than those of 1927.
The Corps built reservoirs, “lakes,” on tributaries. By the 1940s, it had created cutoffs that shortened the river by over 150 miles by eliminating a series of sharp curves called “the Greenville bends,” lowering flood heights 15 feet. The Corps built Old River Control structure that is halfway between Natchez and Baton Rouge. Further south, it built the Morganza floodway. These immense concrete and steel structures were designed to divert 600,00 cubic feet per second from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya Basin.
In 1963, the Corps built a dam to seal the natural flow between the rivers. Without that dam, the Mississippi could flow into the Atchafalaya, leaving the New Orleans port high and dry. It might soon be put to the real test.
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