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Waiting on the water

Desperate flood-protection work was redlining last week in the areas of the South Delta susceptible to backwater flooding.

Just outside of Yazoo City, Harry Simmons is standing on part of the the three miles’ worth of levees he has built in the past two weeks. He hopes that will be enough to save his home, his processing plant and 25 of his 100 catfish ponds from the Yazoo River that was backing up through Wolf Lake, which sits adjacent to his property.

At Simmons Catfish right outside Yazoo City, owner Harry Simmons was hoping the three miles’ worth of levees he had built in the past two weeks were going to be enough to save his home, his processing plant and 25 of his 100 ponds from the Yazoo River that was backing up through Wolf Lake, which sits adjacent to his property.

“We’ve known there was a flood threat for maybe a month,” Simmons said. “Our processing plant is on fairly high ground, especially compared to (the floods of) ’73 and 2008. We didn’t have any water either of those years. But this one is different.”

It is different this year because with the Mississippi River expected to reach record-breaking levels up and down the Delta, the backwater areas are expecting flooding the region hasn’t seen since the mythical 1927 flood.

The water level last Wednesday on Simmon’s gauge reached just below 97 feet. It’s expected to crest somewhere between 107 and 109 feet in the next week or so.

“And we’ll probably get about a foot a day from now on,” Simmons said as he drove two visitors around his farm. Simmons said when water reaches 103 feet on the flood gauge, it would sit at the base of the levee that protects his processing plant. Before the levees, the highest elevation on his farm was 106 feet. The levees that encircle the ponds raised that about four feet.

“We constructed about three miles of levee around the core of the farm, bringing in about 25 ponds out of 100. We’ve been seining the fish and bringing them into that core that’s protected by the levee. I feel pretty good about the levee that we constructed around the plant. But the one we built around the farm will be touch and go as far as it holding. Most of the farmland, though, is likely to go under so we’re prepared for that.

“I didn’t want to be down any longer than I had to be. Sales had been pretty good and all, and we have close to 300 employees. I was trying to figure out how to have the least amount of down time. And I knew if water got into the plant, it would probably be six or eight months before I got everything repaired that I needed to and got my electrical stuff back. If a freezer ever warms up or has drastic temperature changes it will damage everything around it.”

Ponds that are inundated with flood water will most likely be out of commission the rest of the year, Simmons said.

“I’ve never had that happen before so I don’t know what to expect when the water goes down. I think we would have to determine what exactly got in there. That would be devastating. That’s a lot of our outlying ponds we’ll have to do that with. I guess Priority 1 was to save the plant and 300 people’s jobs and my livelihood.”

Harry Simmons has built three miles’ worth of levees around his catfish ponds, home and processing plant, hoping to save what he can from the rising flood waters.

Thirty miles from Simmons Catfish in Rolling Fork, Clark Secoy sat in the package store he owns downtown and wondered if he had done enough to prepare for the possibility of Deer Creek flooding his store, his home and the bed and breakfast he owns. Deer Creek is expected to crest at 95 feet, which would keep most of downtown Rolling Fork dry. If the backwater levee breaks — something the Army Corps of Engineers has said is unlikely — nearly every inch of Sharkey County would flood to some degree.

“That’s the whole thing,” Secoy said. “You don’t know. This is uncharted territory. You don’t know if you’re doing enough. You don’t know if you’re doing too much. Am I going overboard or am I being too conservative? I’ve moved three-fourths of my house into the bottom floor of the 4 Pillars (his bed and breakfast). You’ve got some people saying it’s not going to flood. Some folks say it will. You’ve got folks like me that don’t know. It’s an incredibly stressful feeling.”

Secoy said he recently purchased flood insurance for his home, which activates May 20, but not for his package store and bed and breakfast.

“I’m betting a lot of money those two places won’t flood,” he said.

AT&T Mississippi is moving some of its equipment to higher ground in case the backwater levee fails.

Switching centers at Rolling Fork, Marks, Friars Point, Gunnison and Lula are sandbagged, with Benoit and Rosedale to be sandbagged this week, according to an email from spokesperson Sue Sperry.

The Vicksburg work center has been evacuated, and employees and equipment have relocated to a temporary rented site on higher ground. The company’s Vicksburg Central Office is not in danger of flooding.

AT&T started Friday moving trucks and trailers out of Greenville, Rolling Fork and Hollandale to higher ground in Indianola.


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