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Steele Bayou gates to reopen today amid continuing record flood

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The Great Backwater Flood of 2019 takes a baby step toward its final phase today as the Steele Bayou Control Structure gates are set to reopen.

Water levels in the 4,093-acre Yazoo Backwater Area were nearly equal to the river levels Wednesday night. Levels on the land side stood at 97.67 feet. That mark is 7.8 feet higher than the highest level during the 2011 Mississippi River Flood. On the river side, the level was 97.68 feet. The land side mark is down a tad the past few days, from 98.2 feet, according to an update Wednesday evening from the Mississippi Levee Board.

“The Backwater flooded over 550,000 acres – including over 225,000 acres of crop land,” the update noted.

Today’s expected opening of the gates is in keeping with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standard procedure of reopening them only then the water levels equalize. The structure’s chief side effect – filling Eagle Lake past what would be considered “bank full” stage – has been at the heart of the lake community’s struggles during the 2019 flood.

The gate structure was completed in 1969 with the goal of keeping water from creeks and smaller rivers from flowing into the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers during high stages. Water has been held inside the Yazoo Backwater Area until, as today’s stages indicate, levels inside the huge basin equalize as a result of a lower stage on the main stem of the Mississippi.

The levee board says the 500 or so residents of Eagle Lake may access their property in slightly expanded ways starting today, albeit taking quite a journey. To get to Eagle Lake, they may use light vehicles via U.S. 61 North to Onward, then take Miss. Hwy 1 to Onward over to Fitler, then take the Mainline Mississippi River Levee south.

“This is a narrow gravel road,” says the Levee Board’s update statement, distributed by chief engineer Peter Nimrod to local media outlets and key players in the public and private sector up and down the Mississippi Delta. “Please be careful! Only light traffic will be allowed – no trucks!”

Transportation to and from the Eagle Lake community has been stymied since Feb. 23, when Mississippi 465 was closed on the river side of the Yazoo Backwater Levee. The portion of 465 between the protected side of the levee and the Eagle Lake Gin was closed March 4.

The Mississippi River stage at Vicksburg stood at 49.6 feet Wednesday night, down two-tenths of a foot from Monday. The river crested at 50.4 feet a week ago, its second high-water mark above 50 feet this year. Stages at the Vicksburg gauge at City Front went above its 43-foot flood stage Feb. 17 and isn’t forecast to dip below it for another 28 days. As of Wednesday, that made it 123 days above flood stage, a record and counting. By contrast, the river during the historic 2011 flood crested at Vicksburg at a record 57.1 feet, but stayed above flood stage for just 47 days.

High water has lingered for record amounts of time at Greenville, at 122 days, and at Natchez, for 166 days, as of Wednesday. Both records will continue to grow, as levels recorded below flood stage have reached only as far south as Helena, Ark., where the river was 41.7 feet Wednesday, or about 2 ½ feet below its flood stage there.

Following the 2011 flood on the Mississippi, the Corps began repairing scour holes and identifying weak spots along the mainline and backwater levee systems. The work, which carried on for more than a year after that historic flood event, involved building sand berms, relief wells or both at spots left weakened by lingering flood waters.

Discussions during the current flood have centered more on completing a version of the Yazoo Backwater Pumps that will satisfy all federal agencies. Theoretically, the pumps will move water trapped behind the gates and back into both the river and its lower tributaries. First authorized in 1941, the pumps have gone through a series of revisions and vetoes, the last of which came in 2008 at the behest of the Environmental Protection Agency over concern for wetland preservation.

The Levee Board’s update Wednesday, a brief mention was given to inspections of the mainline levee system.

“The Corps of Engineers continues to inspect the levee,” it said. “No issues have been found. We do not anticipate any major issues on the levee.”

COVID-19

Warren County reports 35 new COVID-19 cases Saturday; Mississippi reports 1,942

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New COVID-19 cases continued in double digits Saturday in Warren County with 35 cases reported.

Mississippi is reporting the 11th consecutive day of reporting more than 1,000 new cases per day, with three days of reporting more than 2,000 new cases. The state’s seven-day average of new cases is now over 1,900 per day, with 13,518 new cases reported in the last week. The highest seven-day average in July was around 1,360 for the week ending July 30.

Hospitalizations are nearing the July high of around 1,250. Unlike the July surge, however, more patients are hospitalized with confirmed cases than ever before in the state.

Nationally, the cumulative cases in the U.S. have soared to over 14.5 million. At least 2,637 people died of the virus Friday and 229,077 new cases were reported. While some progress in lowering case numbers has been seen in the Midwest recently, slowing the rate of increase across the nation, cases continue to surge almost everywhere else in the country. As expected, however, the rate of deaths continues to increase steeply, with a 42% increase just in the past two weeks. The number of people hospitalized across the nation now exceeds 101,000.

In Warren County, MSDH reported 35 new COVID-19 cases Saturday and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,930, and the county’s death toll is 59. The seven-day average of new cases in the county has risen to 23.1, more than four times higher than in early November when the average was about five cases per day.

Statewide, MSDH reported 1,942 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 163,458. The seven-day average of new cases is 1,931.1 per day, about 1,174 cases higher than the seven-day average a month ago, when the state’s numbers were already on the rise. The current averages exceed the numbers seen at the height of the last surge in July.

At the beginning of the crises, the age group with the most COVID-19 cases were those over 65. Now, most new cases are seen in younger people who are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. In September, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi were 18 to 24 years old. That has shifted to a slightly older group. In November, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are from 25 to 39 years old followed by those 50 to 64 years old.

MSDH reported Saturday that 33 more Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,949. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.5%. This rate has dropped as the number of cases are going up faster than the number of deaths at this time.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day in Mississippi was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the 33 deaths MSDH reported Saturday, 24 occurred between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Saturday
Alcorn 2
Attala 1
Coahoma 2
Covington 2
Desoto 1
Forrest 2
Hinds 1
Lauderdale 1
Leflore 1
Madison 1
Marion 2
Panola 1
Pearl River 1
Pontotoc 1
Rankin 1
Winston 3
Yalobusha 1

An additional nine COVID-19 related deaths occurred between Oct. 22 and Nov. 25 and were identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
Calhoun 1
Chickasaw 1
Clarke 1
Desoto 1
Hancock 1
Harrison 1
Jones 1
Lafayette 1
Tishomingo 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations tripled by late July.

Hospitalizations then steadily dropped through Oct. 3 when they began rising again along with increased cases. The last week in October, hospitalizations began levelling off; however, since Nov. 4 hospitals have seen a steady rise in COVID-19 patients once again.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, was 1,188, 99% of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 1,068 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 120 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 276 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 156 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 128,746 through Sunday, Nov. 29. It represents about 78.8% of the cumulative 163,458 cases reported as of Saturday, Dec. 5.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Saturday, Nov. 14, was 1,649, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,590, or about 82.4% of the 1,930 cumulative cases reported as of Saturday, Dec. 5. The county has an estimated 281 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Saturday, Nov. 28, is 1,315,279 or about 44.2% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. MSDH reports statewide test results once a week. Without daily updated numbers of tests, it is impossible to accurately calculate Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average); however, the estimated rate was 27.2% Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 10.3%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities is 200 Saturday, an increase of six since Friday. About 37.5%, or 1,482, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities. The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in LTC facilities is 8,015, less than 5% of the state’s total cases.

A total of 27 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data by provider here. The latest data available is for the week ending Nov. 22.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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Events

Reindeer Run 5k brings out crowds on Catfish Row

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(photo by Keith Phillips)

Runners and their supporters braved the cold Saturday morning for the annual Reindeer Run 5k.

The event, which began at 8 a.m., is in support of Paws Rescue, a Vicksburg no-kill animal shelter.

The run began and ended at Catfish Row next to LD’s Kitchen, and was followed by a pet parade.

Organizers helped the run start off smoothly, and they had plenty of assistance from the Vicksburg Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s office.

(photo by Keith Phillips)

These competitors are having fun with their masks. (photo by Keith Phillips)

(photo by Keith Phillips)

Some runners came dressed up in the spirit of the season. (photo by Keith Phillips)

Santa and Mrs. Claus confer with the the reindeer. (photo by Keith Phillips)

(photo by Keith Phillips)

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News

Search on the Mississippi enters third day; volunteers asked to coordinate with law enforcement

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Search efforts are being coordinated over a wide area. (photo by Thomas Parker)

Search efforts have entered a third day for two young men missing on the Mississippi River near LeTourneau Landing.

The young men, Gunner Palmer, 16, from Copiah County, and Zeb Hughes, 21, of Wesson, Mississippi, went out on a boat Thursday with their dog to find a good spot for duck hunting near Davis Island. They have not been heard from since Thursday.

Multiple police and fire agencies in the region have responded to a request for assistance for overland search and rescue, and the effort is being coordinated over a large search area.

Private individuals who are volunteering to search must also coordinate with law enforcement to ensure public safety and to preserve any evidence. Volunteers wishing to assist should coordinate through the incident command located south of LeTourneau Landing or contact Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs at 601-218-9911.

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Vicksburg
57°
Sunny
6:50am4:58pm CST
Feels like: 57°F
Wind: 1mph SW
Humidity: 48%
Pressure: 30.16"Hg
UV index: 2
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59/36°F
55/32°F
59/37°F

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