The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 covered 27,000 square miles and inundated up to 30 feet deep, making it the most destructive river flood in United States history. This flood affected over 700,000 people, most of whom lived in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Because of this flood, the federal government decided to build the world’s longest system of floodways and levees.
During the summer of 1926, the central basin of the Mississippi experienced some intense rains. Soon, Mississippi’s tributaries in Iowa and Kansas reached capacity, and on December 25th, 1926, the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee exceeded 56 feet. The flooding broke levees along the river in 145 places and peaked near Mound Landing, Mississippi and Arkansas City, Arkansas. More than 700,000 people became displaced from their homes, and 500 people died due to the flooding. The flood also caused about $1 billion worth of damage, which was one-third f the federal budget at the time.
The flood affected people in Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas, which was hit the hardest.
For over 18 hours on April 15th, 1927, New Orleans was hit with 15 inches of rainfall. Parts of the city of New Orleans were covered in over 4 feet of water. When a group of influential bankers learned of the intense flooding upriver, they decided to hold a meeting to figure out how to keep the city safe. They came up with the idea to use about 30 tons of dynamite to blow up the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana.
On April 29th, 1927, New Orleans and Louisiana city and state authorities were hoping to protect the city of New Orleans from the flooding, so they used the dynamite to breach a levee 13 miles below the Crescent City at Caernarvon. This would ultimately flood the St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. Because there were no trees or deep roots, the soil of the watershed couldn’t absorb the floodwater after seasons of heavy snow and rain. The residents of these parishes were never adequately compensated for what they lost.
While the destruction of the levee was intended to prevent New Orleans from suffering serious flood damage, it turned out to be unnecessary. There were several major levee breaks upriver from New Orleans that released tons of flood waters, which reduced the water that reached the city. Despite a warning from the NAACP, Congress passed the Mississippi Flood Control Act after the disaster, which put more stress on construction in Mississippi Delta Levee Camps.
By August, the flood had subsided. There was a significant loss in properties, livestock, and crops, and hundreds of thousands of people had been made homeless. However, the efforts of the American Red Cross did save a lot of lives. The US Army Corps of Engineers was charged with building levees along the Mississippi River. While these levees prevented some flooding, they actually changed the flow of the Mississippi River and increased flooding in the following decades.