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Mississippi flooding: In impoverished Delta, echoes of 1927 disaster

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Walls of local restaurants and inns are lined with historic photographs from the 1927 flood, the most destructive of its kind in US history. Locals refer to it in almost every conversation, but they say that precautions taken in the flood’s wake by the Army Corps of Engineers reassured them that such a disaster could never happen again.

“We never thought it would get this high,” says Milford Hough, standing with his wife atop the Greenville levee. Mr. Hough’s home in Black Bayou is located near the site of the first levee breach in 1927. He says he trusted the Army Corps's predictions about river levels so much that he didn’t bother purchasing flood insurance for his home, built on the river side of the levee. Today, his home has five feet of water inside.

Despite the assurances from the corps that floodwaters will not breach the levees, emergency crews throughout the Delta are taking extra precautions as the crest approaches, piling sandbags at levee gates, rail stations, and power stations.

Impoverished Delta residents brace for the flood

Farmers are using tractors to build earthen dams around their fields and grain silos.

In Helena, Ark., where the water is cresting Thursday, a makeshift barrier of wooden railroad ties plugs the levee gap used for decades to shuttle trucks between the local granary and waiting barges.

“We’re operating on 1927 technology in 2011,” says historian Bill Branch with a laugh, “but so far it seems to be working – and I pray that it does.” Mr. Branch curates the Delta Cultural Center, a state-sponsored museum located across the street.

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