May 11, 2015

Flooding of the Mighty Mississippi, Part Six - The Great Flood of 1937

Mississippi River at Natchez, MS - 2014

Ten years after residents of Catahoula Parish experienced the horrific impact of the 1927 flood, they were faced with yet another great flood.

Officials in Catahoula Parish began their preparations as early as February 6 as seen in the article below from the Biloxi Daily Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Biloxi Daily Herald - 2/6/1937

MNS - 2/14/1937
In an article appearing in the February 14, 1937 edition of the Monroe News Star, the following was reported about Catahoula Parish:
Across the river at Harrisonburg, Rhinehart, Ferriday, Vidalia, Jonesville and other places, the flood sufferers are also being afforded homes and food, medical attention, and should the need arise, concentration camps will be established at Natchez which can care for 10,000 persons, and at Rhinehart and Harrisonburg, in the hills of Catahoula parish, where thousands can be cared for in the event a major disaster takes place.  

From the Blytheville Courier News in Blytheville, Arkansas on February 18, 1937:
Blythevile Courier - 2/18/1937

The Red Cross reported here today that plans were being made to evacuate approximately 25,000 persons in Concordia parish-Catahoula parish, Louisiana areas due to a crevasse which has developed in the levee protecting the area from Mississippi river back waters.
Around 12,400 persons would be affected by the evacuation plans in the Concordia parish area and 12,200 in the Catahoula parish area, the Red Cross said.

The Biloxi Daily Herald reports the following on February 18, 1937:

Biloxi Daily Herald - 2/18/1937

Privies under construction by the Louisiana WPA at Rhinehart, Catahoula Parish - 1937

Refugee camps near Harrisonburg, Catahoula Parish - 1937

Boxcars where refugees lived in Rhinehart, Catahoula Parish - 1937

The Great Flood of 1937 tested the Bonnet Carre Spillway for the first time since its completion in 1931.
Bonnet Carre Spillway

The spillway was built following the flood of 1927.

Located in St. Charles Parish, the spillway is 5.7 miles in length and runs from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.  It is opened when the river gauge threatens to top twenty feet north of New Orleans near Carrollton.

Cranes lift the 8"x12" wooden beams within the bays which allows 250,000 cubic feet of water per second to pass through the spillway.
There are up to 7,000 wooden beams within the bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

Of the 350 bays, 285 were opened for forty-eight days between February and March of 1937.

Flood waters began receding in areas of Catahoula Parish on March 25, 1937.

The Bonnet Carre Spillway has only been opened nine times since it was built.

The National Red Cross Report on the Relief Efforts during the flood of 1937:
In Louisiana alone in 1937, approximately twenty-five thousand (25,000) persons, driven from their homes by flood waters, were cared for by the National Red Cross.  The largest group of these refugees was in the Jonesville area, where some fifteen thousand (15,000) persons were registered and received relief.  Driven from their homes by rising backwaters, these people were mainly from the Parishes of Catahoula, Concordia, LaSalle and Rapides.
The work of evacuating refugees was in the main accomplished by CCC boys under the direction of Red Cross officials.  Where it was necessary to erect housing facilities, the work was done by Works Progress Administration workers, also under the direction of the Red Cross.
Throughout all its work of rehabilitating refugees in the southern area, the Red Cross has sought to keep the family intact.  In all refugee camps, therefore, families have been kept together; and housing facilities have been created with this object in mind.  
Moreover, in nearly all cases where refugees had been evacuated, the latters' household furnishings were taken out at the same time.  

*This post is part six in a series of posts in which an attempt will be made to document the history of flooding in Catahoula Parish caused by the overflow of the Mighty Mississippi River.  Occurrences will be presented using maps, newspaper articles, photographs and reports from the State Library of Louisiana and other collections from the sources linked below each post. 

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