Photos: A First-Hand Account of the Mississippi Flooding

All eyes are on the swollen Mississippi River as historic flooding continues to uproot lives, destroy crops and inundate entire communities while adversely affecting fish, wildlife and perhaps even the course of the mighty river itself. F&S Field Notes blogger, Chad Love, interviewed Fox News Chief Meteorologist Rick Reichmuth, who has been covering the disaster, for his first-hand perspective on the flooding, the status of those on-the-brink levees, the fate of local wildlife, how long will it last and what people can do - if anything - to prepare for disasters of this magnitude. Reichmuth has been covering the floods continuously from points all along the river, and he's seen firsthand the devastation they've wrought, from the displacement of hordes of citizens to the destruction of thousands of homes, businesses, livelihoods and towns. Reichmuth, who spoke to Chad by phone from Fox News headquarters in New York, just recently returned from the field but as the floodwaters head inexorably south, he's gearing up to head out once again.
F&S: So what are the factors that made this year's flooding so historic? Reichmuth: "This is the result of a sort of perfect storm of conditions for flooding. First, we had record-breaking snow in many parts of the north, northeasr and upper Midwest. All that snow must eventually melt. That in itself would be enough to cause flooding, but when you combine that with two major, slow-moving storm systems that gave some areas 15 to 25 inches of rain, then all that water has to go somewhere. The result is something we've never seen before."
F&S: Just how long do you see this lasting? Reichmuth: "This is a long-term, slow-motion disaster. A lot of people, when they hear the term "crest" have an image that the river quickly goes back down. It doesn't.
"In a situation like this the river is so swollen, that all the tributaries can't drain into it and they start backing up as well. Rivers recede gradually, and it will take a long time before a lot of these people can begin to start picking up the pieces. Some places may not see floodwaters go down to normal levels until well into June."
F&S: How bad is it, and can it get even worse? Reichmuth: "I haven't talked to a single person who has ever, ever, seen anything like this. A lotof people use the floods of 1973 as a sort of benchmark, and this is much, much worse than that. Natchez, Mississippi is already at the highest flood stage they've ever seen, and the river won't even crest there until sometime around May, 21st.
"The floods have displaced so many people along the river, and unfortunately many of the areas being flooded are in poor regions where many don't have any kind of flood insurance, and it's turned these people into refugees. The Mississippi is also the principal shipping route for much of the country, and in many sections barge traffic is either severely curtailed or shut down completely."
F&S: How are the levees holding up? Reichmuth: "They're working, but they're also right at the design limits of the system. Most of these levees were built after the flooding in 1927, and they're working so far. The Corps of Engineers is doing what it can, but these are obviously the kind of conditions that are going to tax a flood-control system to the limit."
F&S: How has the flooding affected wildlife populations along the Mississippi: Reichmuth: "The flooding is so widespread that it's forcing wildlife, all kinds of wildlife up on to the levees, which in many cases is the only dry ground available to them. There are so many deer jostling on the levees and competing with each other food, and that's also drastically increased the number of deer/vehicle collisions on levee roads. And the snakes are everywhere, because they don't have anywhere to go, either. You've really got to watch your step."
F&S: What does the future hold for those affected by the floods?
**
Reichmuth:** "I'm not sure about any sort of mandatory relocations, but I think you might start seeing more stringent building codes being enforced in these low-lying, flood-prone areas. And unfortunately, the reality is many of these people may not be able to re-build and carry flood insurance, so in areas particularly hard-hit, you may see a natural exodus of people who simply can't afford to live there anymore."
F&S: There's been some talk that flooding is so severe that it could possibly even shift the mouth of the Mississippi eastward, away from New Orleans. Is that something officials are concerned with? Reichmuth: "That is definitely an issue that's been raised. Historically the mouth of the Mississippi River has changed locations, and some believe the flooding poses the risk of that happening again, shifting the mouth of the river from where it is now at New Orleans further east, which would have some fairly profound effects on the Louisiana coastal area. That's what much of the levee system on that part of Mississippi is designed to prevent, and part of the reason they've now opened some of the locks along the river to reduce the pressure on the system. What happens now remains to be seen."
F&S: Is there anything you can do to prepare for something of this magnitude? Reichmuth: "Get started early, and take it seriously. I met many families who had weeks to prepare for this. They had been told it was coming, but they didn't believe it until it was too late.
"Large-scale flooding like this is something you can't really prevent or prepare for in the traditional sense of other natural disasters, but they are, for the most part, slow-motion disasters that give you enough warning to get ready and get out while you can. Search and rescue operations tax an already stressed disaster response infrastructure, so if they tell you to go, do it while you still have a chance. That's the best prep you can do for something like this."

All photos courtesy of Fox News Channel

_All eyes are on the swollen Mississippi River as historic flooding continues to uproot lives, destroy crops and inundate entire communities while adversely affecting fish, wildlife and perhaps even the course of the mighty river itself.

F&S Field Notes blogger, Chad Love, interviewed Fox News Chief Meteorologist Rick Reichmuth, who has been covering the disaster, for his first-hand perspective on the flooding, the status of those on-the-brink levees, the fate of local wildlife, how long will it last and what people can do - if anything - to prepare for disasters of this magnitude.

Reichmuth has been covering the floods continuously from points all along the river, and he's seen firsthand the devastation they've wrought, from the displacement of hordes of citizens to the destruction of thousands of homes, businesses, livelihoods and towns. Reichmuth, who spoke to Chad by phone from Fox News headquarters in New York, just recently returned from the field but as the floodwaters head inexorably south, he's gearing up to head out once again._