LIANE HANSEN, Host:
The worst flooding along the Mississippi River in decades has many people looking back to the Great Flood of 1927. It swept over seven states and displaced 700,000 people - the most destructive river flood in U.S. history. The devastation spurred the building of the world's longest system of levees, and it left a lasting impression on the people who lived through it.
M: My name is Samuel Edgar Lee Jr.
HANSEN: Lee was born near the town of Winnsboro, Louisiana, on November 15, 1917.
M: Which made me nine years old at the time of the flood, and I have a very vivid memory of it.
HANSEN: Lee now lives on the same ridge where his childhood home stood and remembers the flood waters rising.
M: It came in a hurry when it came. And the water came up to the west eave of our house.
HANSEN: Mr. Lee says some of his neighbors lost their homes. He was on slightly higher ground, so his family was able to stay put. But they could row a boat into town, occasionally, and marvel at the eerie transformation of streets into canals.
M: Looking at the water, you'd see a black ball or something traveling under the surface of the water and what that was, was a mass of small catfish, apparently just hatched out or something, and they just swam around in a mass. We did some fishing and you could not fish without catching some of those things. The water was full of them.
HANSEN: Lee warns that people who face possible flooding today shouldn't be too quick to panic but realize how fast the water can come.
M: If it comes like it did in '27, they have reason to be sure to have access to something somewhere that they can get to stay while it's here.
HANSEN: Samuel Edgar Lee Jr. of Louisiana, remembering the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.