Two Disasters At Once? Mississippi River Mayors Prepare For Flood Season

Mar 19, 2020

Mayors up and down the Mississippi River are bracing for the possible need to respond to two disasters at once — the coronavirus outbreak and the spring flood season.

Federal agencies like FEMA and the National Guard, plus nonprofits like the Red Cross, are all preparing to help cities respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

The problem is those are some of the same entities that help cities recover from natural disasters, like the historic Mississippi River flooding last year. They distribute sandbags, rescue people in need, and set up shelters — actions complicated by the need for social distancing and quarantines.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting another spring of widespread river flooding, according to a report released Thursday, but doesn’t expect it to be as bad as 2019.

Still, on a press call Thursday, mayors from up and down the river recognized that resources could be spread thin this spring.

“The current situation with COVID-19 presents us with a fight on two fronts,” said Sharon Weston Broome, mayor of Baton Rouge and co-chair of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), which lobbies for the interests of cities in the Mississippi River watershed.

“On one front we have the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And on the other, what promises to be a very active flood season,” she said.

MRCTI Executive Director Colin Wellenkamp said his group has been talking to the Red Cross and the Army Corps of Engineers and each agency and organization expects to have the equipment and people power they need.

“All those steps are helping our mayors,” he said, “but the long-term impacts are a little unknown.”

Wellenkamp said the stimulus package the Trump administration is considering could help cities recover from the long-term economic damage.