Hurricane Harvey brought to light several articles about previous episodes of flooding in east Texas and the Mississippi River states.
These date back to the early 20th century and are natural disasters. The climate change people should see if they can put these into their framework. It is doubtful that they can do so.
I will look at these various episodes in a short series of posts.
Great Mississippi Flood of 1927
This flood — also known as the Flood of 1927 — actually began halfway through 1926. It lasted into the next year and spread from state to state in the Mississippi River region.
It is particularly interesting because it changed America on a socio-political — as well as a natural level — in important ways.
The states that experienced the most serious flooding were Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. However, other states were also affected: Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas.
The cost of the damage was so great — $1 billion — that it amounted to one-third of the US federal budget in 1927.
Wikipedia’s entry on the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 tells us that the disaster started with heavy rains during the summer of 1926 in the central basin of the river. By September 1926, the river’s tributaries in Kansas and Iowa had filled to capacity.
By Christmas Day 1926:
the Cumberland River at Nashville, Tennessee exceeded 56 ft 2 in (17.1 m), a level that remains a record to this day, higher than the devastating 2010 floods.
The flooding then moved south to the Lower Mississippi River:
near Mound Landing, Mississippi and Arkansas City, Arkansas, and broke levees along the river in at least 145 places. The water flooded more than 70,000 square kilometres (27,000 sq mi) of land, and left more than 700,000 people homeless. Approximately 500 people died as a result of flooding …
Arkansas was hardest hit, with 14% of its territory covered by floodwaters extending from the Mississippi and Arkansas deltas. By May 1927, the Mississippi River below Memphis, Tennessee, reached a width of 60 mi (100 km).
In April 1927, New Orleans was hit:
On April 15, 1927, 15 inches (380 mm) of rain fell in New Orleans in 18 hours. More than 4 feet (1.2 m) of water covered parts of the city.
Wikipedia says that a group of influential businessmen in the city decided to take action a few weeks later to avert further damage to the city. They had a team of men dynamite the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana, which released 250,000 cu ft/s (7,000 m3/s) of water.
That worked out well for New Orleans, but not so well for people in the downriver parishes (counties) of St Bernard and Plaquemines. The dynamiting combined with the natural flooding which broke levees upstream of New Orleans caused an accumulation of immense amounts of water in those parishes. However, the people were poor — expendable, in the eyes of the better off — and the New Orleans businessmen did not bother to compensate them.
The flood did not subside until August 1927!
In addition to the hundreds of deaths, 9,000 properties were lost. Vast amounts of crops and livestock were also destroyed.
Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless in the states affected. The Red Cross, with the help of local volunteers, set up and ran relief efforts, which included camps. Most of the people affected were black (emphases mine):
African Americans, comprising 75% of the population in the Delta lowlands and supplying 95% of the agricultural labor force, were most affected by the flood. Historians estimate that of the 637,000 people forced to relocate by the flooding, 94% lived in three states: Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana; and that 69% of the 325,146 who occupied the relief camps were African American. In one location, over 13,000 evacuees near Greenville, Mississippi, were gathered from area farms, and evacuated to the crest of the unbroken Greenville Levee. But many were stranded there for days without food or clean water.
Two things happened as a result.
First, a lot of blacks moved to the North, where they could work in factories. Their incomes, housing and prospects vastly improved. Although black migration to northern industrial centres in the first Great Migration had started during the First World War, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 gave it an extra boost. This lasted until 1930, when the Depression started. (The Second Great Migration took place between 1940 and 1970.)
Secondly, blacks began turning to the Democrats rather than the Republicans. This is because of broken promises made by Herbert Hoover, a Republican, when he was elected president in 1928. He had been in charge of relief efforts under his predecessor Calvin Coolidge and was something of a hero. When he later found out about the poor treatment of blacks had received in the relief camps, he pledged to make black lives better. However, as more reports emerged, Hoover had them banned from newspaper coverage. One of these reports was written by Robert Russa Moton, who was the head of the Colored Advisory Commission. Hoover lost his bid for re-election not only because of the power of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s platform but also because of his refusal to get the federal government involved in relieving financial pain from the Depression. (A number of ordinary citizens tried to kill him on the campaign trail.) He also lost the vote of blacks in the North in 1932:
Moton and other influential African Americans began to encourage black Americans to align instead with the national Democrats.:415
Returning to rebuilding and the Mississippi River, Hoover and Coolidge saw that federal funding was given to affected states to rebuild roads and bridges.
A huge system of levees was built under the Flood Control Act of 1928. Floodways were constructed to divert excessive flow from the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, these have done relatively little overall to contain flooding and:
scientists have found that they changed the flow of the Mississippi River, with the unintended consequence of increasing flooding in succeeding decades. Channeling of waters has reduced the absorption of seasonal rains by the floodplains, increasing the speed of the current and preventing the deposit of new soils along the way.
As we know, the Mississippi River still overflows and many people living on the floodplains are affected.
In 1993, severe flooding took place between April and October, the worst flooding since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.