The great Mississippi River flood of 1927 was one of the worst natural disasters in American history. When the rain first started to fall in the summer of 1926, residents in the Mississippi River Basin expected an average weather season, but the rain continued to fall, and after awhile, it seemed it would never stop. By September, the Mississippi's tributaries in Kansas and Iowa were swollen to capacity. In the winter of 1926-27 the rains were so heavy that on the tributaries of the Mississippi the water had overflowed the banks, causing floods to the west in Oklahoma and Kansas, to the east in Illinois and Kentucky. On New Year's Day of 1927, the Cumberland River at Nashville topped levees at 56.2 feet (17 m).
The first levee break occurred a ...view middle of the document...
Heavy spring rains then added insult to injury, causing a second major flood in June.
The flood affected Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. It covered 29,000 square miles, an area about the size of New England, destroying crops and farms, killing as many as 1,000 people, and forcing 700,000 more from their homes. Arkansas was hardest hit, with 14% of its territory covered by floodwaters. By May 1927, the Mississippi River below Memphis, Tennessee, reached a width of 60 miles (97 km). At a time when the entire budget of the federal government was barely $3 billion, the flood caused an estimated $1 billion in damage. Although National Guard aviation units had been regularly called upon to assist civil authorities since early in that decade, the 1927 flood marked the first time that an entire Guard flying unit and its government-issued aircraft had been mobilized to help deal with a major natural disaster.
A Red Cross relief campaign directed by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover erected 154 tent cities in seven states, in which 325,554 people lived for up to four months. Most in the tent cities were African-American. Another 312,000 who stayed in their flooded homes or with friends were also fed and clothed during the relief campaign. The other 300,000 scattered. After the waters receded, the Red Cross returned refugees to their land and gave them a crop's worth of seeds.
Today, even more massive flood control devices seek to control the rivers, such as the dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority and massive concrete buttresses that separate the Mississippi from the Atchafalaya. But as hurricane Katrina showed, the levees are still vulnerable.