Mississippi River Flooding: Food Costs Rise as Merchant Vessels Are Halted

Crucial merchant vessels remain docked.

May 17, 2011, 2:34 AM

May, 17, 2011— -- As the Army Corps of Engineers opens gates at the Mississippi River's Morganza Spillway to alleviate the pressure on levees further south, Louisiana residents are bracing for a wall of water to barrel down on them, which is likely to swallow up their homes, their business, and their memories. Prices for many food staples are rising across the country.

Water is now flowing into the spillway at a rate greater than that of Niagara Falls, more than 100,000 cubic feet per second.

At that rate, it would take just over an hour and a half to cover the entire island of Manhattan in a foot of water.

So far only 15 of the 125 gates have been opened and the Corps plans to open more as the river rises.

The action is intended to be the surest way to spare cities like New Orleans from another tragic flood.

But cities like Butte La Rose, La., which sits on floodplain to the south, are being sacrificed to prevent larger areas from massive flooding.

The flooding is also stopping the vessels that carry wheat, corn and soybeans. Officials say their presence in the river would displace too much water, putting additional pressure on crucial levees.

Already, wheat prices are up 28 cents a bushel, corn up 23 cents a bushel and soybeans up 15 cents a bushel.

The Corps began flooding the spillway on Saturday, opening the floodgates for the first time in 40 years.

The goal is to divert the record high waters of the Mississippi away from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, choosing to risk smaller communities in an attempt to avert disaster in the most populous cities.

"It's really heart wrenching, that we here are going to be sacrificed for others. And it's a numbers game I guess," said Guy Comier, Parish President at St. Martin Church in Butte La Rose.

The Mississippi River crest is not expected to arrive at the Morganza spillway for at least a week, and mandatory evacuations are already under way in many places.

Neighborhoods in the water's path have turned to ghost towns with sheriff's deputies and members of the National Guard going door to door telling residents to pack up and get out.

Kate Buchannan, another Butte La Rose resident, says that she certainly isn't going anywhere -- though she is shipping out her prized possessions. She stands to lose not only her home, but her business too -- Kate's Place is the one and only bar in town.

"Everybody is stoic, they understand, Buchannan told ABC News. "People in New Orleans got it a few years ago. There's a lot fewer people here. These folks are made of much sterner stuff here. We're not gonna whine and cry."

Some residents are attempting to protect their homes through a variety of do-it-yourself tactics.

One resident is wrapping his home in plastic, while Max Doucer is banking on a combination of sandbags, dirt and hope.

"People are strong here, they are going to rebuild better than ever. They love it. Its home for a lot of people, its camp for a lot of people. It's God's country. People love it here so they will be back, bigger and better than ever," Doucher said.

President Obama echoed his message of hope after he met privately Monday with families and local officials affected by the flooding in Memphis. He heard their stories and praised their resilience.

Following the meeting, Obama delivered a commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School where he spoke of the response to the series of natural disasters that have hit the country this spring.

"The success of our economy will depend on your skills, but the success of our community will depend on your ability to follow the Golden Rule -- to treat others as you would like to be treated," he said. "We've seen how important this is even in the past few weeks, as communities in Memphis and all across the South have banded together to deal with flood waters and to help each other in the aftermath of terrible tornadoes."

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