Flooding worst Mississippi's seen since Great Flood of 1927. Here's why.

Alissa Zhu
Mississippi Clarion Ledger
  • Estimated 544,000 acres are submerged and hundreds of homes, businesses impacted.
  • Some homes have been flooded since February and relief could be months away.
  • Flood prompts renewed calls for controversial flood control and drainage project.
  • Dramatic loss of income for farmers who can't plant. About 250,000 impacted acres are agricultural.

Some homes in Mississippi have been flooded since February, and it could be weeks to months before the waters recede, according to emergency officials.

An estimated 544,000 acres are submerged, 515 homes damaged and hundreds of businesses impacted, according to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. The damage could be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Bryant, speaking at a news conference held at Mississippi Emergency Management Agency's headquarters in Pearl Wednesday, called the disaster "historic."

"The 1927 (flood) was a line of demarcation for most of us who live in the Delta," Bryant said. "This may replace that. This is indeed the great flood of Mississippi."

A house along U.S. 61 in the south Delta sits inundated by flood water Wednesday, May 22.

The flood has prompted renewed calls for the federal government to reconsider a flood control and drainage project that was killed by the George W. Bush administration because of its potential impact on wetlands and wildlife.

Bryant said the Environmental Protection Agency is now reviewing a 2008 decision to veto the project.

He said the project could reduce the amount of acreage flooded in the Yazoo backwater area by half.

'Weeks or even months' for return to normalcy

Col. Mike Derosier, commander of the Vicksburg district of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, said the National Weather Service has provided a forecast that shows a slight drop in the river, then a rise again in early June.

Derosier said it's been above flood stage in Vicksburg for 95 days — a new record since the flood of 1927.

"It's going to take weeks or even months for things to return back to normal in the Yazoo backwater area," he said.

In addition to high waters in the Mississippi River, water has collected in a basin behind the levees. 

Derosier compared the basin to a bathtub, filled with water. The tub's plug is the Steele Bayou, north of Vicksburg. The area can't be drained until the river's levels are lower.

"It will not be gone anytime soon," said MEMA Director Gregory Michel.

After the backwater went down 18 inches, south Delta farmer Gene Boykin of Mayersville planted 300 acres of soybeans. Soon afterward, the water rose again and the crop was lost. Now he and his son are trying to save their corn. May 22, 2019

Flooding claims Eagle Lake

Over the weekend, the floodwaters claimed yet another community — Eagle Lake, north of Vicksburg, which has been fighting the incoming watery disaster with miles of sandbag barriers for months.

Many residents have evacuated the area, and a few are left, said John Elfer, head of the Office of Emergency Management in Warren County.

"This has resulted thus far with no loss of life," Elfer said. "That's our primary concern — life safety."

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said his office has set up a substation at Eagle Lake, and deputies are monitoring the area closely.

There have been no problems with looting and no injuries, he said. 

He warned members of the public to keep out of areas restricted by flooding if they don't have specific business there.

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'Dramatic loss of income' for farmers

About 250,000 acres of the 544,000 impacted by flooding are agricultural. 

Bryant said floodwaters will keep many farmers from planting a crop this year.

"(Farmers will experience) a dramatic loss of income," he said. "Not only are their homes flooded, they won't have a crop."

The impact goes beyond farmers.

Michel said an individual housing assistance center has been set up in Warren County.

FEMA initially denied a disaster declaration for the impacted counties, Michel said, because MEMA wasn't able to get damage estimates due to the ongoing flooding.

"We're appealing that," he said. "This is not a normal flooding event."

Once a disaster declaration is secured, people will be able to apply for assistance.

Farmers will also be able to request assistance from a different agency for agricultural-related losses, he said.

"Thanks to all those individuals working hard in the Eagle Lake community and counties affected," Michel said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to them and the folks who are affected."

To keep up with the latest on flooding in Mississippi, get your digital subscription to the  the Mississippi Clarion Ledger.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Alissa Zhu at azhu@gannett.com. Follow @AlissaZhu on Twitter.