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2003 storms spawn memories

By Staff
RECLAIMED LAND Lily Mae Doggett, left, and Vestor Doggett sit on a swing in their front yard on Old Eighth Street Road in Meridian. When torrential rains caused widespread flooding last spring, the Doggetts' front yard and swing were submerged.PHOTO BY PAULA MERRITT / THE MERIDIAN STAR
April 5, 2004
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Barbara Henson still remembers watching people water ski roadside near Highway 19 North after a flood struck the city in the mid-1950s.
The skiing scene was particularly odd, Henson said, because the flood struck a few years before construction of Okatibbee Lake and reservoir had even begun.
The mid-1950s flood was the only thing Henson said she could compare to what happened in Meridian, Lauderdale County and East Mississippi last year when torrential rains caused flash floods in April 2003.
One year ago this week, heavy downpours pounded East Mississippi sending water out of drainage canals, over roadways, onto yards and into homes in what many have described as a 100-year flood.
Problems began April 6, 2003, when a cold front stalled along Interstate 20 in Central Mississippi, turned into a warm front and generated torrential storms that dumped 9.12 inches of rain in the Meridian area.
The severe, non-stop storms, accompanied by high winds and hail, challenged Sowashee Creek the city-built canal that drains much of Meridian as it weaves through parts of the town.
Three weeks later, beginning April 24, the scene happened again. This time, a line of strong, intense storms dumped as much as 8.53 more inches of rain in six hours on some of the same areas.
John Baxter, the warning coordination officer with the National Weather Service's Meridian office who has monitored weather events for more than 25 years, says Meridian was spared considering the amount of rain.
Baxter points to the $17 million in city and federal funds Meridian spent in the late 1980s and early 1990s to widen and improve drainage flow along Sowashee Creek the city's main drainage canal.
Sowashee Creek
Work on the Sowashee improvement project included widening the canal from Hawkins Crossing to the South Industrial Park. One hundred-pound rocks also were added to stabilize the canal's banks.
Former Meridian Mayor Jimmy Kemp, who helped head the channelization project, said last year he felt vindicated when the Sowashee successfully and quickly moved storm runoff out of the city.
Meanwhile, residents hit by flood waters in areas where Sowashee and other drainage canals jumped their banks weren't impressed. Some want city crews to repair problems near their homes caused by the floods.
Tom Harley, 1801 39th Place, is still waiting to have an erosion problem repaired in his two-acre backyard. Harley said erosion of nearby Gallagher Creek a drainage canals that empties into Sowashee has been steadily eating away his property.
Gallagher, a smaller drainage canal than Sowashee, winds through areas of heavily populated residential neighborhoods. Gallagher Creek hasn't be widened and repaired nearly as much.
Gallagher Creek
For Harley, whose property is near the southern point of Gallagher, the problem has been an ongoing battle for more than 10 years.
He said it grew worse when the April rains struck and he lost another 6 feet to 8 feet of his backyard.
Late last year, Meridian city officials told Harley that a $500,000 federal grant the city received for drainage repairs would benefit the stretch of Gallagher Creek behind his home.
Harley, though, said he's yet to see crews in his backyard.
Henson said staffing shortages are part of the reason for delays, such as the one at Harley's property. She said the April 2003 rains exposed the city's lack of manpower in its Public Works Department.