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Vicksburg Businesses Band Together to Fight Floodwater

  • Jeff Swicord

Workers push to quickly complete a makeshift levee by packing dirt on top of an old railroad bed in the Green Meadow neighborhood of South Vicksburg, Mississippi, May 2011

Workers push to quickly complete a makeshift levee by packing dirt on top of an old railroad bed in the Green Meadow neighborhood of South Vicksburg, Mississippi, May 2011

As flooding continues along the Mississippi River, happy outcomes are hard to come by. There is one neighborhood in the South Vicksburg area of Mississippi, though, where five small businesses have joined forces and devised a plan to build their own levee. With a little ingenuity and determined spirit, they are fortifying an old raised railroad track along the river, hoping to keep the water out of their property and hundreds of homes in the surrounding area.

In the Green Meadow neighborhood of South Vicksburg, the race is on against the rising water. Workers are rushing to complete a makeshift levee by packing dirt on top of an old railroad bed.

Authorities are expecting nearly four centimeters of rain to fall here within the next few days. Officials want to make sure the levee can hold back the additional water. Carl Harris is with the city of Vicksburg.

“If you look over the side the water is right here so, we are trying to beat the water and the deadline,” said Harris.

Floodwater has threatened more than 200 homes in two neighborhoods and a cluster of businesses along Interstate 61.

Morgan Spivey, shop foreman at a local company - Energy Services International - told VOA the initial flood estimates would have left them pretty dry. But when revised estimates were made, the company became alarmed.

“Well we knew the water was coming up," said Spivey. "We had our first crest stage at 53.5 [feet], which wouldn't affect us real bad. We would have some water in our loading dock in the back. And then three days later, they increased the crest level to 57.5. [17.5 meters].”

That would put one meter of water in the machine shop. So Spivey went to his boss, Clay Currie, with a plan that would save their business and two neighborhoods in the area.

"We have a natural railroad track behind the office," said Currie. "Went back and looked and saw how we could utilize that. And got with some other companies here locally on the south side of Vicksburg and made a plan to do what we could.”

At first, the city of Vicksburg, which owns the railroad tracks, was not very supportive of building the levee. So, the five local businesses began the project with their own money.

“We kicked the process off privately," said Currie. "A couple of local TV stations interviewed us, and some of the guys from the other companies that were working down there, and that kind of made it known that we weren't getting the assistance that we had hoped for.”

The city of Vicksburg quickly changed its mind. Spivey said that was the plan all along.

“We were really dependent on the city and the county to step in," he said. "Once they did step in, they took the job over and got a lot of the headache off of us.”

"So, at 57.5 [feet], this is where we expect the water level to reach," said Spivey. "If the levee system fails.”

Residents like Joe Pettway in the Green Meadow neighborhood are thrilled. He said they would have had half a meter of water in the house without the plan. But as a precaution, they will still be moving some of the essentials out.

"My mom is 86 and my brother is 54, but he's not in very good health," said Pettway. "So we feel like we need to move the majority of the appliances and bedroom furniture and that kind of stuff and just have a makeshift home, if you will, until the water recedes or starts receding."

But the city predicts a positive outcome for the neighborhood. And the Army Corps of Engineers is confident the levee will hold.

The project will be completed in the coming days, in plenty of time for the expected crest on the 19th.

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