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by Alex Rozier

Mississippi sits at the lower end of one of the world's largest river basins, one that funnels water from 41 percent of the contiguous U.S. This year, above-average rainfalls across the country combined with snow melt in the parts of the Midwest produced surges in communities along the Mississippi River not seen in decades.

For people in the Mississippi Delta, a high river is nothing new. But no one was prepared for the backwater flood that followed. The ponded rainwater between the Delta's levee system has so far put 500,000 acres underwater, threatening a season of crops and thousands of lives.

A map of the backwater flood (shaded in green), the Delta's levee system (black lines), and key places from our stories

"Watching the recent events here at Eagle Lake has brought a lot of powerful emotions back to me as I watched us fight, knowing that we must regroup and mentally prepare for the long road ahead ... We're far from down, damn sure ain’t out, and have not yet begun to fight. We are Eagle Lake strong."

—Tommy Parker

The Homeland and the Wetlands: The Yazoo backwater fight rages

By Alex Rozier

This year, more than 500,000 acres across six counties in the Mississippi Delta were inundated, including 200,000 acres of farmland. Experts say the 97.3 foot-height flood is the worst since 1973. The disaster has led state officials to call for a revival of the Yazoo Pumps, news that is concerning for conservationists worried about the impact on wetlands.

What's flooded? The continuous flooding stretches from just north of Vicksburg to Anguilla in Sharkey County, about 35 miles in length. According to the Mississippi River Levee Board, some parts of the flood reach as north as Itta Bena in Leflore County.

Why? With high stages along the Mississippi River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the Steele Bayou Control Structure in February, forcing rain water in the Delta to pool for miles and miles.

Who's affected? Until the water recedes, July at the earliest, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will not provide estimates for the number of people or homes affected. The properties impacted include owner-occupied and vacation homes, farms and hunting camps. In Warren County alone, emergency management estimates hundreds of residents are affected.

Solutions? The area's flood control sponsor is the Vicksburg District of the Corps of Engineers, which supports the construction of the Yazoo Pumps despite a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency veto of the project in 2008. Some opponents of the pumps have proposed buying out residents and elevating homes.

  • Photo Gallery: Flood victim Anderson Jones Sr.

        Although hundreds of people have been displaced due to the flooding in Warren County, one resident remains to save his home since childhood. Anderson Jones Sr., a resident of Filter, Miss., walks a little less than a mile every week to get to his home where floodwater serves as the view from his front porch.

About 700 homes at Eagle Lake, a popular vacation destination 15 miles northwest of Vicksburg that is home to about 400 year-round residents, could go underwater in the coming days. The lake is wedged between the Mississippi River, which is steadily rising as snowmelt from northern states travels down stream, and just west of Yazoo backwater flooding, which has been caused by several heavy spring rains and full rivers and lakes upstate. With extremely limited government assistance, a group of residents have taken saving their community into their own hands.

Tchula, consistently among the poorest towns in the nation, was hit by a confluence of heavy rain and river overflow more extreme than it has seen in decades. The environmental disaster, which just compounds the area’s existing economic distress, garnered the attention of the national Poor People’s Campaign and Rev. William Barber, who along with national media descended on Tchula to elevate residents’ stories.

What’s flooded? Tchula Lake, part of the Yazoo River, just blocks from the center of town.

Why? The Mississippi River's high water levels caused the Yazoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi, to back up, which, along with heavy rainfall in northern Mississippi, caused it to overflow throughout the state, including in Tchula. Heavy local rains only lengthened the disaster.

Who’s affected? Official numbers of impacted homes are not yet available, and while locals say they’ve heard estimates of between 20 and 30 damaged homes, they say many more residents whose homes border the lake were affected. Tchula, a town of about 1,850, is more than 99 percent African American and three in five people live in poverty.

Solutions? The residents are calling for robust aid that considers not only the damage from storm water, but the overall economic devastation of their community, which has left many with few ways to rebuild.

  • Photo Gallery: Tchula Flooding

    Residents of Tchula, located in the state’s poorest county, Holmes County, have been affected by Tchula Lake's recent flooding. Although some residents’ lives and homes are in serious danger, officials have not declared the area as a disaster zone.

  • Photo Gallery: Issaquena Co. flooding

    In six Mississippi Delta counties, more than 500,000 acres of land are flooded, including 200,000 acres of farmland. In Issaquena County, homes, churches, vehicles and farm equipment can be seen nearly submerged in flood water.