Mississippi flooding: In impoverished Delta, echoes of 1927 disaster
Mississippi flooding concerns are now shifting to the Delta region south of Memphis, Tenn. Residents are using tractors and building makeshift levees to avoid a repeat of the 1927 floods.
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Despite the assurances from the corps that floodwaters will not breach the levees, emergency crews throughout the Delta are taking extra precautions as the crest approaches, piling sandbags at levee gates, rail stations, and power stations.Skip to next paragraph
Impoverished Delta residents brace for the flood
Farmers are using tractors to build earthen dams around their fields and grain silos.
In Helena, Ark., where the water is cresting Thursday, a makeshift barrier of wooden railroad ties plugs the levee gap used for decades to shuttle trucks between the local granary and waiting barges.
“We’re operating on 1927 technology in 2011,” says historian Bill Branch with a laugh, “but so far it seems to be working – and I pray that it does.” Mr. Branch curates the Delta Cultural Center, a state-sponsored museum located across the street.
Helena’s downtown, full of century-old buildings, is lined with an earthen levee punctuated in industrial neighborhoods with a concrete sea wall. Despite the fortification, water levels are currently at 56 feet, just shy of the 62-foot-high top of the levee and sea wall.
Branch shut down a current exhibit and moved the artwork and artifacts – instruments and clothing of legendary blues musicians who once honed their craft here – to the building’s second floor.
“Will I look foolish if nothing happens?” Branch wonders. “But what if it does? We are the museum that interprets the  flood.”
Sixteen riverboat casinos – the financial lifeblood of the area – are closed, their parking lots and entrances underwater. The gaming economy delivers $19.7 million a month in local and state taxes and employs 13,000 people, according to the state gaming commission.
Housing the displaced thousands
In each town, community centers, churches, and convention centers are being reconfigured as makeshift shelters.
A Boys and Girls Club in Tunica, Miss., is housing several hundred residents, mostly elderly retirees, whose homes were flooded to the rooftops. While most are resigned to the loss of their home, others insist they will move back. At their age, their property is the only thing they have left, many say.
“I own that property and if I have to put a travel trailer there, I will live there,” says Charles Ford. “I am going to live there even if I crawl.”