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Story Archives: Mighty Miss reaches record level today at Vidalia
|Mighty Miss reaches record level today at Vidalia|
As the Mighty Mississippi rises to levels never before seen in recorded history, officials remain confident that the mainline levee -- raised and improved since the flood of 1973 and one of the largest in the world -- will hold.
The river reached a record level this morning of 58.24 feet, surpassing the former record of 58.04 feet reached on February 21, 1937. The Mississippi's swift current is expected to inundate the Vidalia riverfront in the days to come. Water began to rise around the complex's public restroom area this morning.
On Monday, the city completed a massive six-day levee construction project to protect the $75 million in public and private investment there, including the convention center, a hospital, a hotel and a doctor's complex. That work began Thursday with the finishing touches completed at 8 p.m. Monday.
The Mississippi is expected to crest at Vidalia on May 21 at 64 feet -- 16 feet above flood stage. It is not expected that the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway will make a difference in the river's stage here nor is it expected that the opening of the Morganza spillway next week will help much, officials say, although they are not certain.
National news organizations are following the crest down river, and have issued several reports on the situation in Vidalia and Concordia Parish. For the past two weeks, skittish Concordians have moved belongings to storage facilities elsewhere, while some have moved out and others plan an exit before the crest arrives. Most are staying.
The scene is similar, but on a much larger scale, to what happened during the flood of 1973. But false rumors, spread to the masses in an instant in today's computer/Internet/text messaging world, have made matters worse, officials say. Yet this same technology has enabled public officials to keep the populace informed with accurate information, too.
"Nothing's changed," said Fifth District Levee Board President Reynold Minsky on Tuesday. "The levees will hold."
The biggest problem, he said, is sand boils.
"We've got numerous sand boils popping up in East Carroll, Madison and Tensas and a few in Concordia, but not anything serious," he said.
He said sand boils are normal but "it's just more of them. The higher the river gets the more you're going to have and we know that. Everywhere they've been before they're there again."
Sand boils form where hydraulic pressure from high water in the river forces water through permeable layers of earth or sand under the levee. While seepage of clear water through levees is common, a sand boil brings soil with it and can damage the levee if not treated. Treatment typically involves sandbagging a few feet around the site of the sand boil, which equalizes the hydraulic pressure and slows or stops the flow of water on both sides of the levee.
Fifth District Congressman Rodney Alexander, on a flight from Baton Rouge to Memphis on Monday, got a bird's-eye view of the flooding along the river
"It's a mess," he said, noting that he is working with local officials to assist in the flood fight.
Alexander said he thinks the Corps, which is often criticized, is doing a good job.
"Seventy percent of the population in our nation lives behind levees," he said. "We have 300 or 400 miles of the river as it twists and turns in our district, so we talk to the Corps as much as anybody. They are vastly under funded."
Alexander hopes Congress will now be open to providing more funding for work along the river as a result of this crisis.
"When I started that fight that we had with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) on drawing those flood maps as if the levees don't exist, I found out that there are some members of Congress that have levees in their district but aren't aware of it," he said. "They're now beginning to understand just how important the levees are.
"Forty percent of our nation's economy is driven by that Mississippi River. If the Corps can't keep it where you can move goods and products up and down it then we lose that."
On the Vidalia Riverfront, work to protect Comfort Suites, the Riverfront Medical Complex, Promise Hospital, the convention center and the town's water wells involved a host of governmental agencies and private contractors, said Copeland.
He said U.S. Sen. David Vitter will tour flood protection efforts in Vidalia at 1 p.m. Friday.
"We've completely secured every building and the water wells on the riverfront as of 8 o'clock Monday night with some minor touch up areas, building ladders and things like that to go over to the complex," Copeland said. "We've got electricity going to each and every building except the convention center."
The levees around the buildings were built up to guard against a 67-ft. crest, said Copeland.
"Naturally, we don't anticipate that it will go up that high," he said.
Bryant Hammett & Associates was the lead engineer for the work on the riverfront, said Copeland, with Guy Murray serving as project director. Construction companies hired for the project included Blain Construction, Dozer Construction, Inc., Camo Construction Company and Womack & Son.
Copeland said Sheriff Randy Maxwell was involved in the project and provided more than 200 inmates along with guards and deputies. They worked 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day.
He said 18,000 cubic feet of sand was used for the levee work.
The mayor credited city employees, the levee board, Corps of Engineers, Congressman Alexander, U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, Sen. Neal Riser, Rep. Andy Anders and Gov. Bobby Jindal, his staff, and the Department of Transportation and Development for assistance. He said Vidalia Dock and Storage put in revetment rock and that a mini-levee was built in front of Comfort Suites to withstand the debris that will be coming down.
"After this is all over with we'll have a massive cleanup campaign," he said. "We'll be sitting down with our congressional and state delegations and the governor's office. Hopefully to be reimbursed. We're only a small town. Our funds are limited."
Copeland said it is "unbelievable how people can come together and work together to accomplish a difficult task. All of this went like clock work. I think I've had five hours sleep in six days going back and forth. Hopefully, we're successful."
He said there will be security 24 hours a day.
"The water wells are protected," he said. "We had to do that or we would have lost water at Vidalia for two solid months."
Once the water covers the riverfront, Copeland said "we'll get to the point where we will be securing it by boat. I want to emphasize to the general public that it is off limits except those of authority. We will not tolerate any trespassing or onlookers because of the seriousness of the river itself because it's going to be some swift current coming through there.
"I'm very comfortable that we will be okay," Copeland said.
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