Thinking about Louisiana, a place rich in cypress swamps and silt and wet, fertile ground. For every flood there are those who lose their homes, farms and fishing grounds, even their livelihoods. The years that mark major floods along the Mississippi River and the coastal waterways leading up from the Gulf—1882, 1927, 1965, 1995, 2005—don’t tell the entire story. One can’t help but notice how natural disasters can be diverted into manmade ones.
But this isn’t a diatribe on the history of floods. It is rather a remark on how those in small towns and in the countryside along the swollen Mississippi have been and continue to be drowned. And now the Morganza Spillway has been opened for the first time in 37 years to divert the river floods away from Baton Rouge and New Orleans to less densely populated areas. The Army Corps of Engineers, who have decided to open the spillway, have a less than favorable reputation after forty years of making money, when they should have been making levees.
The Corps have informed those of the Atchafalya Basin that they need to evacuate as if they are moving for good. Like the folks in the wagon, the dirt road and clouded skies pressing in, photographed years ago by Eudora Welty, the Louisianians south of U.S. Route 190, who know their houses and land will be ruined by the river’s exodus through the spillway, now take to the road in their trucks and through the bayou in their boats, leaving nothing behind. Nothing but a glimmer of hope.