Saturday 14 May 2011

News: High Water Everywhere

High water in New Orleans, from the Times-Picayune
As the Mississippi River experiences its worst floods for decades, here's a selection of the best stories available online.

  • The headline news, from the Times-Picayune, is that the Army Corps of Engineers look set to open the Morganza Spillway for the first time in 38 years, effectively diverting the floodwaters down the Atchafalaya River Basin into Cajun Louisiana. This will ease the pressure on cities down river, not least Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but it's less good news for those rural communities who are now in the path of disaster.
  • “What gives them the right to flood us?”, asks one inhabitant of Gibson, LA.
  • NPR's Talk of the Nation explores in-depth the issues surrounding the use of the Spillway, and the ongoing attempts to contain the river, as does Public Radio International.
  • Meanwhile, Peter Finocchiaro, for Salon, opens up the perennial question of whether these floods will cause the Mississippi to move from its present course, as it has done many times before, and cut off New Orleans.
  • The American Rivers blog, on the other hand, claims that "We have so over-engineered and manipulated and changed our rivers that it can be easy to forget what a healthy river and floodplain actually looks like."
  • CNN calculates the "catastrophic, multi-billion dollar impact on the Midwestern economy."
  • Both Huffington Post and Washington Post have galleries of the flooding.
  • And on the bright side? The New York Times reports on one Arkansas resident who has built his own moat, whilst CNN highlights community spirit in Greenville, MS.
  • Tweeters: follow towboat captain Chris Vickery (@cvic13), who's posting pictures when he's not busy navigating the swollen river.
  • Historical perspectives are available from the New Yorker, courtesy of John McPhee's 1987 story about the constant struggle to keep the Mississippi in its present bounds. And if you can find a copy of Granta 45, you should definitely read Jonathan Raban's "Mississippi Water", his account of a visit to the 1993 floods.
  • Looking further back, here's an account of a nineteenth century Mississippi River disaster included as an appendix to Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi: "This present flood of 1882 will doubtless be celebrated in the river's history for several generations before a deluge of like magnitude shall be seen."
UPDATE: Nola Defender liveblogged the opening of the Morganza Spillway: "This is an apocalyptic wall of water."

And to play us out, a real voice from the past: here's Charley Patton singing "High Water Everywhere", a song about the 1927 Mississippi River floods.

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