Gulf Revisited – 2011
From Wet Memphis
to Sunshine at Gulf
May 10 – 19, 2011
- Updated June 10, 2011
Several photos of the interior
of our condo at Gulf Village,
Ala., are posted on the website
of our property manager, Kaiser Realty, which also has pix of the exterior of
the complex as well as area beach shots. There are additional pix mainly taken
by Betty Nolan during our trips to the area in recent years. They are posted at
www.kodakgallery.com in various
albums registered under Lewis “Buzz” Nolan’s email address. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions
how to access the Kaiser pictures and also the Nolan pictures. .
By LEWIS NOLAN
May 10, 2011 – Tuesday
– Travel from Memphis to Trapp Farm near Newton, Miss.
Betty and I were up at 6 a.m. in our home near the middle of Memphis,
Tenn., after nearly a week of rain and perhaps record rainfall all day Saturday
that had raised the level of the Mississippi River to flood stage throughout
the region. It has been a very wet and rather cool spring.
We finished packing her Ford Focus station wagon with our
clothing and supplies for a trip of about 10 days duration to Gulf Shores, Ala.,
and back. We planned to stop on the way at the big farm owned by her older
brother Harvey Trapp and wife Ann about 20 miles in the sticks past Newton in
South Mississippi. We also planned to stop on the way back home near the
Mississippi State Capitol of Jackson at the Pearl, Miss.,
home of a college friend, Sue Anne Turnage.
It was a good time to get out of flood-threatened Memphis, which was being subjected to levels of the Mississippi River not seen since the Great Floods of 1927
and 1937. Memphis is surrounded by small rivers
and streams that have been backing up into low-lying areas because the Mississippi is so high.
Fortunately, our home is in nearly the geographic center of Memphis, which had been
built on the highest ground along the river for several hundred miles north and
south. Our home is on a street named “Highland”
in a neighborhood called “High Point Terrace.”
The soggy prediction on the front page of The Commercial
Appeal’s edition of Monday, May 9 was that “River swells toward Tuesday crest.”
The subheadline flatly said, “Vast flooding not letting up;
more evacuations near.” The newspaper
said the Mississippi River water was expected to rise to about 48 feet on the
gauge at Memphis
monitored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In comparison, the record mark
was set Feb. 10, 1937 at 48.7 feet. The Great Flood of 1927 – which led to
decades of levee building and reinforcements by governments at all levels –
produced a gauge level of 45.8 feet, making thousands of people in the
Mid-South homeless and drowning huge numbers of farm animals and ruining
structures in many states.
The “Father of the Waters” river is normally a half-mile
wide at Memphis.
But this major flood from extensive rainfall and snowmelt to the north resulted
in the Mississippi escaping from its normal
banks and becoming three miles wide at Memphis,
with most of the spilled water over Arkansas
cropland. More than 90 percent of the Memphis
city limits – protected by a high bluff and various flood controls like special gates and fences
only rarely used for very high water – stayed reasonably dry.
Large numbers of area residents drove downtown to “rubberneck”
at the rising waters. A few trailer parks in outlying developments and even
some apartments in an upscale area of downtown were flooded. The entire first
floor of the large home on an island upstream of Memphis owned and farmed by the family of a
good friend I used to work with was flooded to the ceiling. The Army Engineers
blew a hole in a massive levee in Missouri to
serve as a “relief valve” to the Mississippi River in Missouri
and several thousand residents of farms and small towns outside the levee
system in Louisiana lost their homes when
spillways were opened to take the pressure off levees in New Orleans and other downstream cities.
Despite the horror of the situation facing a relatively few
people who largely chose to live in non-protected areas, most area residents
went about the business as normally. Emergency shelters were opened at several
churches to serve displaced families.
Some instances of inconvenience occurred when people had to take different
routes to avoid the few roads and streets that were closed by high water. One
was a gardening business a few miles north of Memphis that we patronize to buy various
plants for our yard; it was temporarily closed and used a small boat to carry
needed plants and material for customers over the backed up water blocking the
The Commercial Appeal, once one of the largest newspapers in
the U.S. where I worked as
Business Editor until changing careers at the age of 40 in 1984, has been
providing a lot of coverage about the local and regional flooding of the Mississippi and its
tributaries the last couple of weeks or so. By the newspaper’s account, more
than 3,000 structures in Greater Memphis are already under water or are
threatened by the rising waters that come with the predicted crest of 48 feet.
Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by various government
agencies in flood control and abatement levees and other structures within a
few miles of the city, there is a tremendous feel of nervousness among many
people in the area.
We who live next to the “Father of Waters” – the Mississippi River - know it just might be beyond any
human control. It is, after all, the drain spout of the central section of North America and at the mercy of spring rainfall and
melting snow and ice of tremendous areas.
That feeling of helplessness was driven home when we drove
over the river on the Hernando
(subject of a special section of the newspaper I organized, edited and wrote
back in the 1970s when the new bridge was completed). We had seen high water
many times when taking our pet Greyhound dogs to the boarding kennel at the
race track at West Memphis,
Ark. But we had never seen
literally miles of swirling, brown water half-way up the trunks of cottonwood
and other trees. The man-made embankments of soil and crushed rock supporting
railroad tracks were only a very few feet above the water level.
Betty had called the amazingly competent Executive Director
of the boarding kennel, Vicki Cohen, and was assured that contingency evacuation
plans for the dogs were in place on the (slight) chance the levee were to fail
and Eastern Arkansas was flooded with river water possibly reaching hills 30
miles to the west.
is built on a protective, high bluff on the east side of the River and
seemingly has geography on its side. And as previously noted, our home in
situated on the very highest part of Memphis,
which has kept it bluff structures dry for generations. It’s an unpleasant
subject, but a few neighborhoods in slightly lower parts of town are
experiencing sewage back-ups. That’s because since even sewer pipes built above
the flood plain need to have “room to work” with the help of gravity.
Also on the negative news side is that snakes, rats and
other little-seen residents of low scrub land are fleeing to high ground. Betty
still laughs about how the press reported a woman called authorities for help
in removing a snake in her yard. The hapless woman was told that Firemen had
already killed nearly 30 other snakes in a football stadium near the river. She
reportedly said, “Don’t stop.”
But there was also good news. Mainly, the day’s weather
reports forecast a lot of sunshine over the next few days and absolutely none
of the highways between us and the Gulf of Mexico
were closed by flooding.
However, the forecasts predicted continued cool
temperatures, with highs mainly in the 70s and lows dropping into the 40s on
the Gulf of Mexico coastline where we were
heading. Despite it being mid-May, it feels more like a late winter than the
usually beautiful springtime.
Betty and I had been planning this trip for some time. We
had a new floor of ceramic tile installed throughout our beachfront
condominium, replacing wall-to-wall carpeting that had been inexpertly installed
by a Hispanic crew after a big and bad Hurricane Katrina had peeled the roof
over our top-floor unit, drenching our interior with heavy rainfall. Due to the
damage and the subsequent disaster in the beach rental market following the
huge BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last
year, our usually reliable income from renting our nice condo vanished in 2010.
So we were on our way to see for ourselves the state of our
new flooring following two months of rent to “snowbirds” and the condition of
the beautiful beach in front of our complex following the expenditure of many
millions of dollars in “restoration projects” by government agencies.
We drove south on Interstate 55 to Jackson,
Miss., then across much of the state on
Interstate and U.S highways to the farm of Harvey and Ann Trapp in south Mississippi. With Betty
helping with the cooking, we had a delightful dinner of grilled rib eye steaks,
home-grown lima beans and brought-from-Memphis butter cookies and banana bread
made by Betty. I had a fun conversation with Maggie Nowell, Harvey and Ann’s
8-year-old granddaughter. She was quite interested in the travelogues like this
one I’ve posted about our trips around much of the world the last few years.
Betty presented her great-niece, Maggie, (a beauty who looks
a lot like her Great-Aunt Betty when Betty was her age) a silver bracelet
purchased at the National Ornamental Metal
Museum in Memphis.
Betty also got a lot of pleasure by giving the Trapp family dog, Violet,
with Part 2 of this trip. / Return
to Nolan Travels Home Page.)