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Raging river leaves lasting wake

By Staff
RISING WATERS Residents of Shubuta watch from a boat landing as the Chickasawhay River rises up over its banks in April 2003. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
April 6, 2004
SHUBUTA A year ago, schools in Clarke County were closed and many residents left their homes riding in boats instead of cars to escape the rising waters of the Chickasawhay River.
At least 75 Clarke County homes were damaged last year by flood waters that rolled south along the river, affecting residents in Enterprise, Stonewall, Quitman, DeSoto and Shubuta before flowing into Wayne County.
Most of the homes damaged by flood water were in Enterprise and Stonewall in the northern part of the county, said Lindy Slay, Clarke County emergency management director.
Slay became emergency management director in October; he was the county's volunteer fire coordinator at the time of last year's flooding.
Sheriff's deputies, volunteer firefighters, state conservation officers and neighbors pitched in to protect people and property before, during and after the waters came in April.
The Key Chapter of the American Red Cross set up a shelter for flood victims in the Multi-Purpose Building behind the Shubuta Volunteer Fire Department.
Rains begin
It all began one year ago today, when torrential, drenching storms from a warm front soaked East Mississippi and dumped nearly 10 inches of rain on some parts including 9.12 inches in Meridian.
By the next day, some streets and roads in Lauderdale County and Meridian were impassable from rising flood water. The Sowashee Creek, the city's main drainage canal, jumped its banks and flooded homes.
Storm runoff channeled through the city and emptied into the Chickasawhay River. Then, later in the week, the storm runoff sent the Chickasawhay out of its banks in Clarke and Wayne counties.
Some called it a 100-year flood one followed three weeks later, on April 24, when additional torrential rains brought more flooding to Meridian, Lauderdale County and eventually along the Chickasawhay.
Marcus Chapman, a volunteer firefighter in Shubuta, had been on the job about three months when the floods hit along the Chickasawhay the first time.
He said he helped establish the Red Cross shelter and that he spent most of his time helping families move to higher ground and filling sandbags to place around low-lying houses.
Avoiding floods
Beatrice McCarty, 65, of 138 East St., has seen many floods in her time and was one of several Shubuta residents who moved to higher ground when the Chickasawhay River rose.
McCarty stayed with her daughter in the neighboring Red Hill community for about four days after family members packed her belongings in a moving van before the river crested.
Fortunately for McCarty, her home wasn't damaged by the flood but it was a close call. Said McCarty:"The water got around the house, but it didn't get in. It got a little bit in my carport."
A native of the Shubuta area, McCarty said last year was the third time rising water on the Chickasawhay forced her from her home. The last time was 1961, when residents endured a severe flood.
One flood problem remains unresolved today: Damage to the Meridian Southern Railway line between Meridian and Waynesboro. About 2,000 jobs held by Clarke and Wayne county residents depend on repairs to the line.
Economic development districts and boards of supervisors in Clarke and Wayne counties as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Resource Conservation Service are looking for money to fund repairs.
Calm waters
This week, the Chickasawhay River is running calm and standing about 9 feet deep a sharp contrast from the rushing water that swept by Shubuta this time last year, cresting at 37.5 feet.
Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp said floods are always on the minds of Clarke County residents.
Slay said he would like to see additional river gauges posted along the Chickasawhay.
He said river gauges at Enterprise automatically phone river stages to the National Weather Service and the gauges at Shubuta are read manually. But he said there are no gauges on the river between the towns.