Miss. gov grew up with flood history in his family

AP News
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Posted: May 07, 2011 3:42 PM
Miss. gov grew up with flood history in his family

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has a calm but urgent tone when he tells people in low-lying areas to prepare for possible flooding from the Mississippi River.

If it seems personal to the 63-year-old governor, it is.

Barbour and his wife, Marsha, spent part of last weekend moving their belongings out of their Humphreys County lake house, which is on the same land but not exactly the site of his mother's childhood home.

"We got about 8 inches of water in lake house in 2008," Barbour said.

Flooding is an unfortunate part of Barbour's family lore.

Both sets of grandparents lived through the catastrophic Mississippi Delta flood of 1927, which killed hundreds, and he grew up listening to their memories of it.

"We heard about it from not only family members but neighbors," Barbour told The Associated Press this past week.

Barbour grew up in Yazoo City, which sits on the last of the elevated ridges just before the south Mississippi Delta flattens out into a rich alluvial plain of croplands, catfish ponds and small towns leading some 200 miles north into Memphis, Tenn.

"After the flood, because of where Yazoo City is situated, thousands of refugees came to town," Barbour said.

Grand Avenue was the main residential street running north and south through Yazoo City.

"My father's family lived there, and they got flooded," Barbour said. "My mama's family in the Delta, they got flooded out."

The Republican governor said his mother, Leflore, was 8 years old during the 1927 flood, and she remembered going with her mother by boat from Humphreys County into Yazoo City, over areas that normally would be dry land. At Barbour's paternal grandparents' land, the water was about 9-feet high, their house flooded to the tops of the doors, he said.

The Delta flooded in 1927 after a levee broke near Greenville, sending a wall of water crashing into residential areas and farmlands.

Barbour remembered his paternal grandfather's recollection: "He said you could hear the flood coming long before you could see any water."

Parts of the Delta flooded again in 1937 and 1973. Some low-lying areas had shallower floods in 2008.

The great flood of the lower Mississippi River Valley in 1927 was one of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history. More than 23,000 square miles were inundated, and in addition to the deaths, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. The flood found its place in folklore, literature and films, and popular songs including "When the Levee Breaks" were written about the disaster.

Another flood in 1937 was also devastating, submerging 31,000 square miles from West Virginia to Louisiana.

For more than a week now, Barbour has been urging people in flood-prone areas to elevate or move their belongings, pack important documents, secure loose items such as propane tanks and evacuate to higher ground.

"You've got to make the right decision for your family or yourself," Barbour said.

The Army Corps of Engineers officials have said they're confident the mainline Mississippi River levees will hold as the river crests in Tunica County, Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez in coming days.

The risk of flooding is greatest in the triangle formed by Vicksburg, Rolling Fork and the Yazoo River in Yazoo County, he said, urging people in affected areas not to wait to evacuate. It's safer to evacuate than wait to be rescued, he emphasized.