Receding waters reveal ruined homes, crops
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Mississippi River crest has passed through the South, but the misery caused by flooding is far from over.
As water recedes, residents from Tennessee to Louisiana face the task of gutting houses soaked in polluted water. Farmers will have to scrub their fields of sandy sludge before trying to use what’s left of the growing season. Shipping is likely to be restricted for weeks because of pressure on levees, and a close watch will be kept well into the summer on strained levees, bridges and other structures.
“It’s falling now, slowly but surely. But it ain’t falling that fast for me to get home,” said William Jefferson, who has had at least 6 feet of water in his Vicksburg, Miss., house for two weeks. “I don’t know what to expect. I won’t know what to expect until I open the doors. Nobody knows until they open the door, then all hell breaks loose.”
Some of the worst flooding has been along tributaries, and not all of the smaller rivers in Louisiana have hit their peak. The Atchafalaya River took on water diverted from the swollen Mississippi to spare more populous cities downstream, and it’s expected to rise several more feet this week in Cajun communities like Butte Larose. Residents there were ordered to leave by Tuesday.
Upstream in Tennessee, people have been returning home to find damaged appliances, water-soaked beds and ruined clothing. Residents in several states are fretting about where they’ll get rebuilding money as government inspectors evaluate homes, with some leaving behind color-coded stickers to say whether dwellings can be salvaged at all. Officials haven’t yet put an overall dollar figure on residential damage, but thousands of homes were flooded in Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Scrubbing walls and floors with bleach, south Memphis resident Billy Burke counted himself lucky that floodwaters from a tributary didn’t rise higher than his basement. He expects to spend $3,000 to $4,000 to clean out the basement and replace his water heater.
“That water had a bad smell to it,” Burke said of the murky, brown soup that also filled his backyard. “I had to get rid of the bacteria and the mold. I don’t want no bacteria getting in there.”
In parts of northwest Mississippi, the agonizing wait continues for water to recede. Many houses have been flooded to the attics for weeks, and officials say some will have to be gutted or torn down. Government inspections must take place before many homeowners can return, a process that could take a week.
State officials say 1,664 primary residences have been evacuated, but it’s not clear how many of those are flooded. Many victims have already applied for federal aid, but some say that process is moving slower the water’s retreat.
In Louisiana alone, agriculture officials estimate that over 282,000 acres cropland could be flooded, causing $211.5 million dollars in losses.