Five Ways the South Is Preparing for Flood Aftermath

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REUTERS/Eric Thayer

At least floodwaters can give you a bit of time to prepare for devastation — not that the time makes anything better. But with time also comes questions on what is the best way to handle the inundation of surging rivers. From evacuating prisons to worshipping Graceland, here’s five ways the South is dealing with the rising waters.

1. Farm Levees. As people lose their homes, farmers face losing their entire livelihood with the rising waters. One farmer in Carter, Miss., says he spent about $80,000 on contractors to build levees around his house and grain silos holding 200,000 bushels of rice. With his wheat fields a sure loss, he says he can’t afford to not spend the money to save what he already harvested.

With thousands of acres of wheat almost ready for harvest and thousands of acres more of corn waiting for combines, farmers throughout the Mississippi River region who couldn’t makeshift a levee now are left to fight for federal aid.

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2. Fuel Terminals Shut Down. High water hurts big oil—and your wallet at the gas pump—too. If the river levels get too high, even more fuel terminals throughout the Mississippi River region will be forced to shut down to avoid flooding at the plant and because getting the gasoline in and out of the terminal will become impossible. The problem isn’t a lack of supply, but no way to get to that supply. Of course, any shut downs also result in costly impacts to the economy.

As the river rises above flood level, one fuel terminal in Visckburg, Miss., could run out of fuel early next week. The high river makes barge traffic  in and around the site tricky, at best.

3. Moving Prisoners. Inmates in Louisiana’s largest prison—Angola—weren’t safe from the flood either, setting in motion an evacuation to higher ground. Under police escort, prisoners moved out in buses and vans. The prison holds more than 5,000 inmates—including being home to the state’s death row—and has views of the Mississippi on three sides. Those views have gotten quite a bit muddier. At least other prisoners throughout the region have been serving the public, filling sandbags and setting up makeshift barriers.

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4. Break Out the Cranes. With levees performing the way they were designed, the questions came on whether to purposefully release water through spillways to ease pressure on those levees. As the Mississippi Delta faced the brunt of the water, engineers used cranes to remove 28 of the Bonnet Carre Spillway’s 350 wooden barrier floodgates about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans, diverting water into lakes.

The Army Corps of Engineers also wants to open a spillway north of Baton Rouge for the first time since 1973. Even with it opening, water will infiltrate parts of seven parishes and cover valuable farmland.

But these decisions aren’t easy, with every opening of a spillway or levee having a harmful effect on somebody or something, whether farmland, rural housing or water quality in lakes.

5. Safeguarding Elvis. But if there’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, it’s Graceland. Situated on a relatively high point, this property was never truly threatened by the waters around Memphis. And a good thing too, because Bob Nations, the local emergency official for Shelby County, was willing to protect it in strange ways. “I want to say this: Graceland is safe,” Nations says. “And we would charge hell with a water pistol to keep it that way and I’d be willing to lead the charge.”

So, while Nations would be the first to prepare to guard the city’s musical icons and tourist attractions, the city instead prepared the way most people do in a flood: by sandbagging and praying.

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