In Mississippi Town, Residents Watch Rising Waters

May 15, 2011
Originally published on May 16, 2011 3:27 am

Thousands of homes and farms in Mississippi remain underwater, and residents are bracing for the river's crest later in the week.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace checks the depth meter on his small boat motoring through a flooded neighborhood in Vicksburg. The reading: 71/2 feet.

Pace and his deputies patrol this and other inundated parts of town, making sure looters stay out. He points to the top of street signs that stick out of the water: Mary's Alley and Williams Street.

"We just drove across an intersection," he says. "Oh my God! And we didn't stop at the stop sign."

Dozens of homes are underwater. You can only see the roofs on some. Power lines, once high above the streets, are now just inches above the water. Trees are submerged.

Pace notes that the boat is on 12 feet of water.

"We are actually driving over a plum tree with plums in it," he says.

This neighborhood sits near the Yazoo River, which joins the Mississippi at Vicksburg. With the river so full, the Yazoo's waters have nowhere to go but backward, right over the banks and into low-lying neighborhoods. This one has been underwater for more than a week. Each day the river gets higher and takes more homes.

Bracing For The Waters

Jacqueline Boykin's house and a neighbor's look like they will be next. The water is just a few feet away.

"That my sister's house, but we are not going to leave each other," Boykin says. "We not going to do that."

Boykin has already moved all her furniture out except for her bed. She shuffles down the road to the water's edge. Her heels hang off the backs of her gold-sparkling house slippers. She says she just paces like this back and forth all day, watching the water, trying to decide whether to leave.

"I just feel so bad. I know if my house go, where is me and my daughter going?" she says. "But I know God and he got my back. I got a backup. God has my back."

Boykin has at least five more agonizing days ahead of her. The river is expected to crest in Vicksburg on Thursday. After that it could be several more weeks before the waters recede.

That doesn't leave much for people to do but wait and watch the river flow past.

Downtown

In historic downtown Vicksburg, police officer Charles Huggins tries his best to keep onlookers from posing for photos near the water. He warns them of alligators.

"This is a natural disaster, but they think it's a tourist attraction," he says. "But I'm just trying to keep people from hurting themselves, that's all."

The favorite photo is the town's majestic brick railroad museum that is now surrounded with algae-covered water; or the water seeping under a temporary levee wall erected next to a line of famous murals.

But just a block away and up a steep hill, it's high and dry.

Sidewalk speakers pump out jazz and blues in front of brick storefronts. The gift shops, antique stores and galleries are open. One store even has a rack out in front with T-shirts that say, "I survived the 2011 flood."

The Highway 61 coffeehouse is packed. Business is good, says owner Daniel Boone, but he's worried the tourists will soon stop coming.

Everyone thinks the town is flooded, Boone says, but it's only the low-lying areas. The water is close, he says, but it's not coming up here.

"It's a block away, but luckily it's a vertical block and we are not wet," Boone says.

And it's a block open for business.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

M: NPR's Carrie Kahn has this report from Vicksburg, Mississippi.

CARRIE KAHN: Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace checks the depth monitor on his small boat motoring through a flooded neighborhood in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

MARTIN PACE: We're actually in seven and a half feet of water right now.

KAHN: Pace and his deputies patrol this and other inundated parts of town, making sure looters stay out.

PACE: You'll see on the right just the first, maybe the top two or three inches, of a street sign sticking out of the water.

KAHN: Oh, I can - it says Mary's Alley.

PACE: And Williams Street.

KAHN: That's the top of the street sign.

PACE: And we drove across an intersection.

KAHN: Oh, my god.

PACE: We didn't stop at the stop sign.

KAHN: Dozens of homes here are underwater. On some, you can only see the rooftops. The power lines, once high above the streets, are just inches above the water. Trees are submerged.

PACE: We're in just right at 12 feet of water, and we're actually driving over the top of a plum tree with plums in it. That's what the top view of a plum tree looks like.

KAHN: Jacqueline Boykin's house and a neighbor's look like they're next to go. The water is just a few feet away.

JACQUELINE BOYKIN: That's my sister's house, but we're not going to leave each other. Mm-mm, we're not going to do that.

KAHN: Boykin has already moved all her furniture out except for her bed. She shuffles down the road to the water's edge. Her heels hang off the backs of her gold-sparkling house slippers. She says she just paces like this back and forth all day, watching the water, trying to decide whether to leave.

BOYKIN: Oh, I just feel so bad. I know if my house go, where is me and my daughter going? But I know God, he got my back. I got a back up. God has my back.

KAHN: Boykin has at least five more agonizing days ahead of her. The river is expected to crest here in Vicksburg Thursday. After that, it could be several more weeks before the waters recede. That doesn't leave much for people to do but wait and watch the river flow past.

CHARLES HUGGINS: Ladies, if you all don't mind, please wait up top. We got alligators down there.

KAHN: In historic downtown Vicksburg, police officer Charles Huggins tries his best to keep onlookers from posing for photos near the water.

HUGGINS: This is a natural disaster, but they think it's a tourist attraction. I'm just trying to keep people from hurting themselves, that's all.

KAHN: The favorite photo is the town's majestic brick railroad museum now surrounded with algae-covered water, or the water seeping under a temporary levee wall erected next to a line of famous murals. But just a block away and up a steep hill, downtown is high and dry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: Sidewalk speakers pump out jazz and blues in front of brick storefronts. The gift shops, antique stores and galleries are open. One store even has a rack out in front with T-shirts reading: I survived the 2011 flood.

KAHN: At the Highway 61 Coffeehouse, the place is packed. Business is good, says the owner.

DANIEL BOONE: My name is Daniel Boone, just like Daniel Boone.

KAHN: Really?

BOONE: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly like that. And my father's name was Daniel Boone and...

KAHN: Boone says he's worried the tourists will soon stop coming. He says: Everyone thinks we're flooded, but that's just the low-lying areas. The water is close, but he says it's not coming up here.

BOONE: It's a block away. But luckily, it's a vertical block, so we're, you know, we're not wet.

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Vicksburg, Mississippi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.