It’s summer planting season, but record flooding across the Mississippi Delta is keeping farmers out of their fields and many families out of their homes. Half a million acres are underwater, and MPB’s Alexandra Watts talks to those affected.
Billy Whitten drives his pick up truck through his south Delta property in Warren County.
“I live at Valley Park, Mississippi,” Whitten explains. “We farm about 1450 acres and about 1450 acres are under water right now.”
A blue sky is reflecting off a large body of water that looks like a lake. But it’s not a lake — it’s farmland submerged in water.
More than 500,000 acres in the Delta are underwater, and around 250,000 of them are farmland.
Whitten passes by grain silos and farm equipment that he would use to grow his corn and soybeans.
“We have not planted anything,” he explains as he passes by flooded fields. “Everything we have grown has been underwater for about six weeks.”
Not being able to plant is a problem for farmers around the southern part of the Delta, including Clay Adcock.
Adcock lives in Holly Bluff, a small community in Yazoo County. He says this flood will affect his farm’s future.
“I know financially, it’s going to be really hard,” Adcock said. “I don’t know whether I’ll survive this or what. I’m kind of looking at some of my options, on what may be some of my options. I really can’t answer that. I’ve never been in this situation, unfortunately. I know it’s going to be bad.”
Both Yazoo and Warren counties have been under A State of Emergency since March.
The Mississippi River has been above flood stage for 95 days — Mississippi Emergency Management executive director Greg Michel says the flooding is historic.
“This event has surpassed being a single weather event,” Michel said in a press conference. “It is now of historical proportions. The duration of this event has now surpassed what we have seen since the flood of 1927.”
The severe flooding could also have a ripple effect throughout the Delta region.
“You know, if things get really, really bad, you’re going to see prices reflect across the board,” said Alex Deason of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“Whether it be dairy, beef, poultry, swine….because as farmers, they do feed America.”
At Eagle Lake, about 15 miles from Vicksburg in Warren County, Ann Dahl stands in a flooded parking lot. A snake swims towards her, but scurries away before it reaches land.
Dahl says displaced wildlife is common, especially on the roads, where scared deer cross frequently.
Right now, there is only one road in and one road out of Eagle Lake that isn’t underwater. And Dahl says it’s affecting everyday life.
“People are missing children’ s recitals, football games, family events, church activities,” Dahl said.
“People are missing their lives, and it is mental torture. How much worse can it get — and it just keeps getting worse.”
Dahl is staying in Eagle Lake for as long as she can, but more people are being evacuated by the day.
With her community almost completely underwater, Dahl believes the flooding would have been prevented if the Yazoo Pumps project would have been built.
The decades-old project would have pumped water out of the Yazoo Backwater area during floods. In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the pumps on the grounds of potential damage to Wetlands.
“Had the pumps been built in 2008 when they were supposed to, you would see half of the water we see right now,“ Dahl said. “And all of us at Eagle Lake would have been spared.”
In Issaquena County, Anderson Jones from Fitler supports the pumps.
He said the pumps could have prevented the current flood and the flood in 1973 which damaged his home — the same home where he was born and raised.
Jones’s wife and daughter have already evacuated, but Jones is staying put, along with his son who is home from school for the summer.
“I miss my family ‘cause my wife, she helped me when I have to take a bath, so I won’t fall and hurt myself,” Jones said. “I have 12 plates and pins in my leg. My ankle’s crushed. It’s getting hard, but I have to do what I have to do, though.”
Jones hurt his leg in an accident years ago and uses crutches and a cane. The flood has made traveling even more difficult for him. Jones must take a 35-minute boat ride through his flooded property to get to his vehicle that is parked on a main road.
But it’s not enough to make him leave.
“Some of them because of my handicap, they [are] saying, ‘You need to come on out.’ But they don’t understand, that’s my home. My dad and mama raised me there. That’s where I [grew] up and I raised my two children there — me and my wife. And that’s my home — I don’t have no other place to go.”
Jones hopes that his home won’t face any more flood damage in the future.
“I wanna be right there for my home. And about these pumps, I told my children, ‘When I’m gone, still fight for them pumps.' You know, it could help someone else."
The massive pumps project being reconsidered by the EPA with bipartisan support from Mississippi senators and congressmen.
Farmer Billy Whitten hopes more attention will be paid to the situation in the south Delta.
“They have no idea. I don’t know, just every day you wake up in another world,” he said as he drives around his property. “The water keeps rising. You get away from the south Delta, very few people know what's going on here.”
And as the flood waters continue to displace families and halt planting season, residents in the Delta say they have no choice but to take it one day at a time.
Alexandra Watts is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. www.report4america.org