Flooding, bridge closure leave some in Delta community stuck and walled off

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The combination of flooding and a closed bridge has left some Delta residents stuck waiting for the water to recede.

In Winterville, a rural town about eight miles north of Greenville, 71-year-old retired school teacher Stephanie Park said she can’t go more than half a mile in either direction from her house.

Stephanie Park

A schoolbus submerged off of Winterville Priscilla Road in Winterville.

To the west on Winterville Priscilla Road, where she lives, is a bridge federal inspectors deemed unsafe and closed about six weeks ago. To the east, half a mile down the same road, the street is flooded from Deer Creek due to a heavy rain season going back since February.

“My main concern is I’m in my 70s, and my son inherited very, very high blood pressure,” Park said. “It’s one thing staying in your house because you like it, it’s another thing doing it because you have no choice.”

Park said there are four other households and about eight other people who live on the stretch between the closed bridge and flooding, including a farmer who’s land is underwater.

“We’ve had quite a bit of raining going on the last few weeks,” said Washington County Board of Supervisors President Carl McGee. “Everything is at capacity, all the drainage tributaries.”

Deer Creek is a distributary (which flows from its source) of Lake Bolivar, about seven miles north of Winterville.

Heavy rain this year led to historic flooding in the Delta, especially the 500,000 acres of land that was underwater in the Yazoo backwater area, although that’s separate from the Winterville floods.

On Thursday, with surging winds, a school bus making it’s last drop-off drove off of the road and into the water. Park’s son, Marlowe, found the bus on the way home from work and waited with the driver and one student until the sheriff arrived.

Three days earlier, Park was returning home from a museum where she works when she realized she couldn’t make it through the flood to her house in her Mercury Marquis. Instead, she called McGee, who then drove her through the water in his pickup truck.

Stephanie Park

Federal inspectors closed a bridge on Winterville Priscilla Road, forcing residents to take alternate routes into town.

Since then, Park said she’s only been able to leave once on Friday when the water dropped slightly. Marlowe drives a Ford F-250, but with the water rising back up in the last two days he doesn’t want to risk driving through it.

Park added that the flooding wouldn’t be an issue if the bridge were open. She said the closed bridge on Winterville Priscilla means her route to the post office is now a 34-mile round trip versus just three miles before the closure. McGee, however, said it’s in the public’s interest to keep the bridge closed.

“Is it inconvenient? Yeah, but I’d much rather have this conversation than one after a tragedy,” McGee said. “When it comes to the overall safety of the traveling public, whether it’s school buses or pedestrians, we have to make sure that we can guarantee their safety when traveling on public roads.”

Washington County has 29 closed bridges according to the Office of State Aid Road Construction, one of the highest totals in the state. McGee said the county is struggling financially to make the bridge repairs.

“When you have these types of issues, and you have unfunded mandates to close bridges, that puts an extreme amount of pressure on our revenue streams,” he said, referring to Gov. Phil Bryant’s declaration a year ago to close bridges statewide. “It would be nice if they said, ‘Close these bridges and here’s the revenue to make the repairs. And this is what we’re going to do to raise more revenue to take care of the infrastructure throughout the state of Mississippi, whether it’s a gas tax or something, to put money into infrastructure upgrades.'”

Park said two families live on Forkland Road, who are stuck because of another closed bridge near the intersection of County Line Road to the East, and muddy conditions from flooding to the West.

Click here to see the full list of bridges MDOT says require immediate closure.