Morganza Flood – Part 3

I am a great fan of Led Zeppelin and mentioning one of their lesser-known tunes here would be appropriate.   “When the Levee Breaks” is the song, and of course, that is what we are hoping does not happen anywhere along the course of the Mississippi River as the crest flows southward.

The song is easily found if you do a YouTube search for Zeppelin and the  title.  However, you need to know that Zeppelin changed the lyrics and the tune, because it was not their original song.  How in the world a British group honed in on an old blues song is beyond me and the scope of this blog post right now, but let me fill you in about the original.

Photo Courtesy of Shoreacres- taken in Greenville, MS

The original song, believe it or not, was written, sung, and recorded in 1929 in response to the 1927 flooding of the Mississippi River Delta.  Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy are the original artists.  It’s interesting to note here that Memphis Minnie was not only a woman, but a woman of color who played guitar and played it well.  She was way ahead of her time, and some research says she even had the smarts to retain the rights to her song after it was recorded.

Below are the lyrics, which I so painstakingly listened to and hashed out for you for about an hour this morning.  I did so because they tell a blues story of what happened in 1927; unlike the Zeppelin version.  (Further, I could not find the original lyrics anywhere on the net–given more time, maybe, but I wanted to get this post up for y’all).

WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS
Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy – 1929

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break.
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break.
And the water gonna come and have no place to stay.

Well all last night, I sat on the levee and moaned.
Well all last night, I sat on the levee and moaned.
Thinking about my baby and my happy home.

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break.
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break.
And all these people got no place to stay.

I love you momma, what am I to do?
I love you momma, what am I to do?
I ain’t got nobody tell my troubles to.

I worked on the levee momma both night and day.
I worked on the levee momma both night and day.
I ain’t got nobody keep the water away.

Oh, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good.
Now, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good.
When that levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

I worked on the levee momma both night and day.
I worked on the levee momma both night and day.
Worked so hard to keep the water away.

I had a woman she wouldn’t do it for me.
I had a woman she wouldn’t do it for me.
I’m goin’ back to my used to be.

You don’t need no levee, momma don’t weep and moan.
You don’t need no levee, momma don’t weep and moan.
Gonna leave my baby and my happy home.

Now as you listen, you can now understand more clearly what he is singing.

When the levee breaks

We are holding our breath as far as the rain goes.  We have had an unseasonably dry spring, meaning, very little rainfall.  And that is a good thing because dry ground will absorb way more floodwater than saturated ground.  With this in mind, we are thankful that we have had to water our gardens, right?  We will no longer complain about lack of rain, nor will we pray for rain, right?

Now, there needs to be clarification as to what is going on down here as far as flooding goes.  Folks in other parts of the country (world) are not getting hourly reports as to what is happening, and there is some resulting confusion.

There are two forces at work as I type.

RIVER FLOODING
First, the Mississippi River is flowing south toward our state, at record heights, testing the very levee system constructed as a result of the  1927 flooding.  She is flooding unfortunate areas as she goes.  The reason cities like Memphis and Vicksburg flood is because they do not have “spillway structures” like Louisiana does.  There is no way to relieve the pressure or reduce the height of the river.  The next major city in the line of flooding fire is historical Natchez, MS, which lies right on the LA/MS border.

SPILLWAY FLOODING
Secondly, down here in Louisiana, just as the river enters our state,  control structures and spillways are being opened to divert the river water thereby reducing the height of the river as it goes through critical cities like Baton Rouge, New Orleans. 

And the diversions are working.  The river level is dropping either to or below flood stages for these cities.  And that means great things for those cities, the inhabitants, industry, and the WHOLE American economy.

How and why?  Because the levees will hold (barring terrific rainfall), the shipping industry can carry on (ships will not be stopped), the oil industry can carry on (petro barges can continue up and down river).  More about that later.

Meanwhile, to the west in the Morganza Floodway, the little community of Butte Larose is underwater with homes expected to be totally covered soon.  The next town south of that is Krotz Springs, where folks are making the call whether or not to move out before the water rises.  As the diverted water moves southward, every resident in every affected community will have to make that decision.

By move out, I mean renting a UHaul, packing up all their belongings, and literally moving out.  Of course, those who have great faith that their houses will not flood can just evacuate and leave their things behind; but they are taking a big risk.

Enter flood insurance.  I don’t care to split hairs with anyone whether or not taxpayers should subsidize folks who live in a floodplain.  Just let me say that we must keep in mind that many of these Cajun (and otherwise) families have lived in those places for generations. The land is passed down and with it, since the building of these control structures, comes the knowledge that one day their family land might become the “sacrificial land” for Baton Rouge and New Orleans. 

If it happens once in a lifetime, it might be one time too many for some, but happening it is and these people are packing up and moving out without a whimper.

So, let’s keep this in perspective:  We can let the National Flood Insurance policies pay these folks according to what they could afford (in premiums) and be thankful that Louisiana had a way to divert the water away from the big industrial cities.

BECAUSE, if the river levels had continued to rise, breached the levees, flooded those cities, stopped all navigation and shipping, then the price tag would have reached up to $200 MILLION dollars a day in economic losses.  And guess what?  You would not have fresh bananas at your grocery store by next week.  The cost of everything would also go up because of re-routing navigation, spoilage, and the time it would take to dock ships elsewhere, unload them, and load all the products onto trucks and trains.  And let’s not even talk about what that would do to the price of fuel.

One more thing.  This water isn’t going away any time soon, either.  Some experts are predicting that some water will stay until June or July.   Where are these people in the meantime?  Where will they live?  Can they work?

Bottom line:  They are basically displaced, yet where is all the media coverage like we saw about the “refugees” that had to leave after Katrina?  Is this any less newsworthy?  Maybe a positive spin on a potentially trying situation doesn’t sell advertising.

So, while we eat our bananas and drink our imported coffee, let’s be thankful for structures, spillways, and sacrificial lands.  And later this summer, when the floodwaters recede, let’s think of ways we can help these folks get back home if that is what they choose to do.

"Louisiana in His Hands" Photo courtesy of Rachel Billiot Klaus

Thankfully yours,

BW

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Comments

Morganza Flood – Part 3 — 23 Comments

  1. Wendy,
    Thanks for clarifying and educating about what is happening in La. I am praying for everyone and working up here on ways to help as soon as we can get in there to do it!! We put out a call for help at my college and are already getting in donations! You know that ANYTHING that you need…I will be there to help in anyway that I can!! I love you and will see you very soon!
    Lori

  2. Learn something new everyday. I re posted this link on my Face Book, hope it helps bring attention to whats going on. The media isn’t doing a great job on justifying these people being displaced from their homes, or the long term affects to come.

    • Thank you, Deserved! For some odd reason, WordPress (the blog site) sent me a personal email letting me know that “Deserved” liked my post so much that he said so!!! I’m just glad someone close to me is reading! I love you, Danno!

  3. Great post BW!
    Sadly- The Coast guard has now closed the river to barge traffic in an area North of N.O. The news item is 13 mins. old as I write this at 7:09 pm.
    That old blues tune is awesome and a great piece of research on your part. I am so jealous of your talent to ferret out little known bits of info for us all.
    God Bless and pray for those in the water’s path, friends and strangers alike.

    • I think that closure is near Natchez; and as I stated, they have no way to reduce the crest and it is a safety factor. Tugboats pushing barges must steer under power. With the rushing river, things can get easily out of control and the USCG just cannot let that happen. Hopefully, the closure will not last long and will not have a major impact on economy. I must confess that week before last I received an email with a couple lines of the lyrics contained in it and the artists’ names. I promptly forgot about it until my friend and I were remembering how we’ve referred to the Led Zeppelin song so many times in reference to New Orleans. This morning, I did not sit down to write about the songs; but as is often the case, I start to type and the ideas come from somewhere beyond me and flow to the keyboard and I’m on a rabbit trail searching for truths that will tie current events together with what is in my heart and mind. Thank you for appreciating my research — although the internet sure makes it easier than going to the library! BW

  4. I also heard it was barges of grain being held just above Natchez, Mississippi & Vidalia, La. Good news…they are predicting, 2 ft. LESS in Morgan City than they were earlier.
    Lake Pontchatrain is brown as far as the eye can see when crossing I -10 where the Bonnet Carre Spillway is diverting The Mighty Mississippi.

  5. The sign that marks the spot of the levee break in 1927 is only about 5 miles from my house. Thanks for the great blog and information. My son did a short film on the 1927 flood that won at the Crossroads Film festival in Jackson Ms a few years ago. Keep up the great work that you do. Thanks again.

    • Way to go to your son!!! How cool is that? What is he doing now? You are most welcome for the information. Thank you for coming back again! Maybe I can muster up a good contest soon to break up all this bad news!!!

  6. What a beautiful image (Louisiana in His hands) would you mind if I posted it on my blog (giving you a link and full credit of course).

    • Hey girl! It’s been a while but I’m glad this flood water pulled you out of the woodwork!!! How ya doing? Feel free to link and if you use the pic, please give credit to Rachel Billiot Klaus if you would. She found the bracelet on the floor at a school where she teaches and put it on the sink to wash her hands and got the idea . . . inspired by the floodwaters.

  7. It’s a fantastic shot. I had to shut down my old blog due to threats I was receiving over a very damning post I wrote about corexit during the oil spill, I also got hacked and lost my last computer over that. Glad to be back blogging again. Other than that we’re all doing well, glad to see you still representing us all so well, you are a powerful voice for this area. Thanks for letting me post the image, and so good talking to you again!

    • Oh my gosh, I wish I would have been monitoring your blog at that time–sorry I wasn’t. I will make more of an effort to keep up; but in case I miss something, be sure and shoot me a note when you take such a chance again!!! I’ll back you up, Child! You are most welcome to use the photo. Dotter was excited that others wanted to re-post her pic. Maybe one day we can meet for lunch (incognito) in a dark corner booth in the nearby big town and you can tell me all the gory details????? We’ll make that appointment by email so the hackers can’t find us! Keep on blogging, lady.
      Here is a link to Bayou Child’s blog: One Cajun’s Life

      BW

  8. Wonderful post, BW! I just watched a one-hour special on the 1927 flood last night on the Weather Channel – on their “When Weather Changed History” series. I’m sure it will be aired again. As you say, all this water isn’t going anywhere fast – I hope one the crests have passed there’s at least some media attention to the rebuilding efforts.

    I’m a huge blues/cajun music fan, as you know. I’ve done a couple of posts related to the flood and music.

    My current one relates to your area: Dam Atchafalaya.

    And yes, that’s spelled right!

    The previous post has to do with the 1927 flood and the mid-Mississippi Delta. I spent a week there during the Clarksdale Juke Joint Festival, and had no idea my levee photos would be useful for an event like this.

    That one’s called: Muddy Waters.

    Thanks for being kind enough to let me link these here, but thanks especially for the great job you’re doing helping people understand this flood. It truly is historic, and as interesting as it is distressing.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Linda. Isn’t it just the most wonderful thing when serendipity provides a use for those archived photos? I love when that happens. Your are most welcome to post your links here. I’m just so honored to have a writer of your magnitude continue to visit and read my attempts at (what is hardly ever) objective reporting! LOL! BW

  9. It’s almost a month later, where is the newst news and the pictures of the homes and people displaced? Where is the coverage on how long this flooding will last before people can go back for good to rebuild?

    • Hi D.M. Are you ask some really good questions, indeed. We had a running commentary in our Comments section, but you ask some very good questions. I am sorry to tell you that no news is not always good news. It just means the story isn’t that exciting to the nation any more. We are not even seeing any local coverage of what is happening now. All I do know is that the flooding was not nearly as bad as anticipated. Those who could go home have done so. And by now, I think the waters have receded enough that those who were flooded can go back and clean up. That’s about all I know.

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