Flecks of green duckweed float in Mary Huff’s living room while mosquitoes buzz around her face.
Her home in Holly Bluff has been inundated, her gardens flooded and her bee hives swept away in a flood, which has been devastating parts of the Mississippi Delta since January.
Huff is staying in her sister-in-law’s home while her husband stubbornly rides out the flood in the upper levels of their home.
Looking out over her flooded home, she sighed: “There’s so many memories here.”
“Giving up my home that I’ve lived in for 41 years, that I’ve raised my children and grandchildren, in — and nobody cares. That’s whats sad,” she said.
She paused, fighting back tears. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s very sad that people have to live like this when its not necessary,” Huff said.
Huff is just one of many whose lives have been disrupted by the flood.
In her small corner of the Delta surrounding Holly Bluff, farm workers struggle to make ends meet, families must use boats to navigate miles of flooded roads, people construct dirt and sandbag levees, in hopes of saving their homes from the rising waters and volunteer firefighters face down a watery catastrophe instead of battling blazes.
Their stories offer a look into the experiences of Mississippians living through what Gov. Phil Bryant and other officials are calling a “historic” flood — the worst since the Great Flood of 1927.
“Until you’re in it and you see it and you actually witness it, you don’t realize it,” Huff said. “You just don’t think about it. But we think about it every day. We have to live in it. And we need those pumps.”
Making ends meet without a crop
Ollie Tate Jr., a longtime resident of Holly Bluff, was spraying herbicide on tall grass that grew by the side of the road on a sunny Tuesday morning in June.
Under normal circumstances, he and other farm workers would be tending fields of soybeans, corn and cotton. However, with the surrounding farmland under several feet of water, farming hasn’t been an option this year.
He said the herbicide will kill the tall grass, where mosquitoes breed and snakes like to hide.
Residents of Holly Bluff have witnessed the months-long flood’s affect on wildlife. The deer are starving, hungry raccoons can be seen in broad daylight, unwelcome snakes show up in yards and alligators roam the waters overtaking the community.
Tate said the work he does is enough to cover his utilities. A dirt levee surrounds his home. No matter how bad it gets, he said, he remains committed to stay in Holly Bluff.
“I love the Lord, I put it in his hands, but it’s getting to the point where i say, ‘Lord, give me a break. I need a break. We can’t farm,'” Tate said. “…. We’re hanging in there, that’s all I can say.”
A widow fights to save home, memories of late husband
Paulette Gordon keeps a garden hoe at hand when she navigates the water around her house. It’s for ‘gators, snakes and balance, she said.
A sandbag levee and pumps work full time to keep the flood from claiming the home she built with her husband more than 40 years ago. Chester “Glynn” Gordon passed away last year in June after a six year fight with cancer.
A portion of his ashes, scattered in his garden among the tomato plants, were swept away when the water came, Paulette Gordon said. She has so far refused to leave, even after the flood swallowed her driveway.
There are too many precious memories tied to the structure that was built by her husband’s hands.
They fell in love at the Yazoo County Fair and began dating while she was in high school, she said.
“His kindness is what really drew me to him. He was really laid back. Very calm voice. Just a kind person,” she said. “… He loved Holly Bluff, he loved the community, he loved this house that we built.”
Now Gordon lives with the most important pieces of her life packed up in bags, ready to leave if the water breaches her levee.
Stress over flood impacting community
Glen Reams is quick to joke around, but he takes his job seriously
He’s the chief of Holly Bluff’s volunteer fire department. As he puts it, “I’m Uber, I’m AAA, I’m Dr. Phil.”
Fuses are short in Holly Bluff, Reams said. The stress of flooding is impacting the mental health of many. People come to him to talk, and sometimes to cry, he said.
Reams doesn’t hesitate to admit the disaster has brought him to tears as well.
Not long after the community of Eagle Lake near Vicksburg lost its fight against rising floodwaters, Holly Bluff experienced a downpour. Reams couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with worry and despair.
The advice he gives people is this: “You got to sit down and think about it. Things can be replaced. Lives can’t. People can’t. I know you’re stressed but you gotta to look at the good things. Your kids, your grand kids. Don’t let it kill you because stress can kill you.”
Recently Holly Bluff saw its first flood-related deaths. A vehicle lost control in a sharp curve and sank into the floodwater. The victims were a pregnant 29-year-old woman and her 34-year-old boyfriend. They were on their way from Vicksburg to Rolling Fork.
Reams and the Holly Bluff volunteer fire department were there to pull the bodies out of the water.
“It’s sad. It happened because of the water. The water wouldn’t have been there if the pumps had been there,” he said.
‘You feel forgotten’
Carla Crites is tired of living in foul-smelling floodwater, being swarmed by mosquitoes and seeing dead animals float past the home she shares with her two elderly parents, John L. and Peggy Moody.
“It’s not just a disaster. It’s catastrophic,” she said.
Her brother and cousin have mobile homes nearby, but the family is at least a 20-minute boat ride away from dry roads in Holly Bluff. For Crites, it feels worlds away.
“We have been inundated with water since February. You feel forgotten. You feel like you’re the only ones on earth because you’re so isolated,” Crites said.
Worried about thefts, Crites and her family have decided to wait out the flood, relying on her brother to bring in groceries and other necessities. “About hell would freeze over before my daddy would leave,” she said.
Overwhelmed and teary-eyed Carla Crites reminisced about drier days — having family picnics and celebrating the holidays on the green fields that surrounded their home.
“Usually it is God’s country and it will be again,” she said.