Landmark 1927 flood changed landscape, politics, people
The Great Flood of 1927 set high marks that may be broken this month as an enormous amount of water makes its way down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.
But the mighty Mississippi is better controlled now -- with levees, reservoirs and gates, engineers say -- a control that dates back to the aftermath of that landmark flood that changed not only the landscape, but also politics and the people of the land. Handling of the disaster helped put Herbert Hoover in the White House. And some say later dissatisfaction at the refugee camps helped vote him out. It inspired a novel by William Faulkner and countless documentation.
Generations in Mississippi and Louisiana today refer back to it, though few are alive who saw it.
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“There were 10,000 people,” Barbour said. She was standing in the wind-whipped parking lot of a grocery store near Yazoo City on Wednesday. She had just finished trying to help engineers explain to her neighbors what the current flood will do to the surrounding farmland and their homes and roads. She and the governor own a home not far away on Wolf Lake.
The image of her elderly neighbor ferrying people was an afterthought, a way of bringing history to the scene -- a flood of gigantic proportions.
Charlie Sullivan, 68, a retired history and geography teacher with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, grew up in the Delta, that flat land that stretches for 200 miles along the river and is up to 100 miles wide.
“My grandmother used to show me marks on buildings where the water stood,” he said. “Where the mud line was.”
He said there were armed gangs of men guarding the levees on both the Mississippi and Louisiana sides of the river, because they were afraid someone would blow the opposite levee to save themselves, he said.
“Well, it just broke on our side,” he said. “At Mounds Landing. I’ll never forget that name.”
Sullivan taught the Flood of 1927 as history and geography.
It was one of the most powerful natural disasters of the 1900s, making the Mississippi 80 miles wide at some points.
When the levee at Mounds Landing broke, the river flowed with the force of Niagara Falls into an area the size of Connecticut, according to a summary on ExploringEarth.com. Ten feet of water covered towns up to 60 miles from the river. And even after five weeks, the area around Mounds Landing was covered with 100 feet of water.
1927 Flood impacted N.O. with people, not water
Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
METAIRIE, LA - Since the Mississippi River started swelling, many comparisons have been made to the flood of 1927.
The flood killed thousands and affected people all the way down to New Orleans, just not in the way you might think.
This weekend, Herb Baudier will turn 90 years old. During the great Mississippi flood of 1927, he was just a boy.
“The river looked like it was filled up to the top. But it wasn't really,” Baudier said.
New Orleans did flood in 1927, but that flood water in 1927 didn't come from the Mississippi River.
“There was a lot of rain. A lot of water,” Baudier recalled.
The short-term, urban flood came from the same series of storms that began in 1926 all along the Mississippi. Storm after storm hit, leading to saturated ground and a bloated river, flooding several states, killing thousands.
“The flood of 1927 did change things nationally, but also regionally,” said UNO Assistant History Professor Michael Mizell-Nelson.
Mizell-Nelson said the water didn't have the biggest impact on New Orleans, rather the flood of people.
“We started to see a major influx of people coming in to stay with relatives, moving into the city,” he said.
It's something Herb Baudier remembers. He said, at one point, the schools in New Orleans were closed.
“The schools… housed a lot of people that didn't have a place to live,” Baudier said.
They brought French, Cajun food and culture with them, including their appreciation for crawfish.
St. Bernard Parish residents also flocked to the city after officials blew up the levee there.
Looking back, Herb Baudier remembers it as a six-year-old would. For him, it was fun.
“The kids had fun. Kids always have fun. Even in a mess like that,” he said.
The rising river evokes different emotions for Mizell-Nelson.
“One of the really fascinating things, I think, is the resilience of people from Louisiana,” he said.
Resilience many will soon need once again.
Officials blew up the St. Bernard levee to create a spillway of sorts saying it would spare the city. Now, historians say it was more of a public relations move than a necessary flood protection measure.