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Recalling the Great Flood of 2011

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  • Looking back on the Great Flood of 2011, it was a life changing event for many. Some might say we saw the interminable spirit of farmers and rural citizens plowing ahead in situations where many others would have simply given up.
  • But last May, standing on a bluff above the river in Memphis, it occurred to me that the avalanche of muddy, angry water careening through the countryside could just as easily have swallowed us whole, like it did in 1927. This time – for the most part – the system held together.

Just a little over a year ago, during the Great Flood of 2011, Old Man River did its best to keep a massive wall of water within the confines of its banks.

But something had to give. A python can’t swallow an elephant without some repercussion.

It began up north, when the Mississippi River became engorged with more water than it could handle. The swirling serpent of muddy, mad water headed south.

At the same time, storm systems were attacking the Mid-South and Midwest, turning towns and communities into debris fields. And still more rain fell in the Mississippi River watershed.

Steven King novels have started out less scary than the 2011 season.

It rained so much into an already bloated river that tributaries began to flow backwards. Entire crop fields were gobbled up. Mid-South farmers and other residents moved out of flooded homes into farm shops, hotels or in with families or friends.

Boats and generators were in short supply, but Good Samaritans were not. Helping hands were offered. Rural communities came together.

There were blowouts along the river, some unforeseen, some not. For a while, there was genuine concern on the part of some experts that the course of the Mississippi River might change if one or more of its flood control systems failed. The potential impact of this on river commerce would have been devastating.

(For more, see: Anniversary of 2011 floods)

In early May, to relieve pressure on the swollen snake writhing through the Mississippi Delta, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers intentionally blew up spillways at Birds Point in southeast Missouri, the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana and the Bonnet Carré Spillway north of New Orleans.

When the water came gushing through the ruptures, crops and livelihoods were gulped down. And still the river kept rising.

For a month, all anybody could do was wait while the river channel gagged and belched on its nightmare meal. Many wondered if the spring planting season would be lost. At some imperceptible moment, the waters began to recede, but not before all-time highs had been recorded on river gages in Natchez and Vicksburg.

Finally, fields began to dry out enough to plant in June, but planting stretched into July for some. Fortunately, crops developed rapidly under the hot, summer sun, and in the end, Mid-South farmers gathered a decent crop despite the bite of a historic 500-year flood.

Looking back on the Great Flood of 2011, it was a life changing event for many. Some might say we saw the interminable spirit of farmers and rural citizens plowing ahead in situations where many others would have simply given up.

But last May, standing on a bluff above the river in Memphis, it occurred to me that the avalanche of muddy, angry water careening through the countryside could just as easily have swallowed us whole, like it did in the 1927 flood. This time – for the most part – it held together.

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