Flooded regions need
massive U.S. govt funds
Millions of jobless could be put to work
Getty Images/Scott Olson
Guy and Diane Creekmore check out their flooded home in Chickasaw neighborhood, Vicksburg, Mississippi, May 18. Mississippi River at Vicksburg is expected to crest at 57.5 feet May 19, surpassing 1927 record by more than a foot. To date, a mere $5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds had been approved for the entire state.
BY BETSY FARLEY
METROPOLIS, IllinoisWorking people in this southern Illinois town of 6,000 are struggling to recover after flooding by the Ohio River destroyed or severely damaged at least 250 homes. They have yet to receive a penny of federal aid. Further south along the Mississippi River the worst is yet to come. With the May 14 opening of the Morganza spillway in Louisiana by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and thousands of homes are being flooded to relieve pressure on the levee systems of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The Mississippi River is expected to crest at Vicksburg, Mississippi, at 57.5 feet, a foot higher than during the 1927 flood, one of the worst in U.S. history.
This is not just a natural disaster. The tens of thousands who have lost their homes were living on floodplains because they couldnt afford to rent or buy on higher ground. Capitalist land developers built up the floodplains to rake in the profit from rents, and big shipping companies and dredgers pushed for changing the landscape of the river basin to expand ship traffic with no heed to the flood dangers that entailed. The federal government approved the projects.
Now, with tens of thousands evacuated, millions of acres of farmland flooded, and thousands unemployed, the administration of President Barack Obama has barely lifted a finger to provide relief.
Calvin Greer, an unemployed construction worker in Metropolis, said, Millions of people are out of work, and they could be working to clean up the flood damage or to build floodwalls to prevent this kind of disaster. Instead, the state government wants to cut funding for schools and public works.
On the other side of the Ohio River from Metropolis is Paducah, Kentucky. It was barely affected by the flood. Thats because Paducah has a floodwall, explained Jack Hicks, a retired Teamster whose house narrowly escaped the rising floodwaters here. We havent seen anyone from FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] here yet.
Illinois officials say they are requesting federal flood aid, but dont expect any unless the damage officially totals $16.5 million. Meanwhile, many working people have been denied insurance claims for their losses, since most insurance doesnt cover damage from floods.
Two of my coworkers lost everything and wont get a penny, said Luckie Atkinson. Atkinson is one of 230 workers at Honeywells uranium enrichment plant here who have been fighting a company lockout since June 2010. Atkinson joined with other locked-out workers, members of the United Steelworkers union, in sandbagging and evacuating people in Metropolis. Everybody helped, he said, including high school students, the basketball team, and cheerleaders.
By last week the waters had largely receded, although some low-lying parts of the town are still submerged.
On May 2 the Army Corps of Engineers blew up the Birds Point levee in Missouri to lower water levels and save the town of Cairo, Illinois. This sent a muddy torrent of water over 130,000 acres of farmland, destroying around 90 homes and the livelihoods of 200 residents, including many small farmers in the area called the spillway.
Cairo, a working-class town of nearly 3,00060 percent of whom are African Americanhad an official unemployment rate of 12 percent before the flood. Residents were evacuated for the first 11 days of May. But when they returned state police enforced an 8:00 p.m. curfew as an excuse to harass and intimidate people especially in the projects, according to a young man who asked that his name not be used. He said he hoped the Militant would tell the truth about whats happening to working people in Cairo.
People had to use their rent money just to survive during the evacuation, said Gita Martin, an unemployed worker from Cairo. Her mother, Doris Love, who is a cook at the public high school, said she has been without work for two weeks now.
This reporter along with another Militant volunteer sold four new subscriptions and one six-month renewal to workers in Metropolis and Cairo during the two-day reporting trip.
If its a working-class paper, then I definitely want it! said a millwright in Metropolis who had worked on clean-up at the site of the former World Trade Center. He wanted to know the papers position on the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. After listening to an explanation of how the U.S. government will use the commando raid to step up their attacks on the working class here and around the world, he decided to subscribe and buy a copy of The Changing Face of US Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions.
Give federal aid to flooded areas