May 19th, 2011
04:14 PM ET

Family legacy threatened to be swept away by floods

Howard Jones' family has been in the lumber business in Natchez, Mississippi, a charming town on the eastern banks of the mighty Mississippi River, for five generations. Now the swollen river was threatening to sweep away their operation and the family’s legacy.

Jones was covered in sweat and dirt, and after about 10 minutes, I was too. The JM Jones Lumber Co. is a dry, dusty place to work. Fine, powdery sand constantly sloughs off the bluff above it, wafting its way down into the yard where it mixes with sawdust. My boots and pant legs, our vehicles and equipment, were coated in it. Odd really, as there has never been so much water so close.

Just three weeks ago, Jones received warning that the river would go to 60 feet or higher. The lumber yard is right on the banks - well below the bluff above it that serves as a natural levee -  so they were forced to suspend operations and go into the levee building business.

“We haven’t run our saw mill in about two weeks,” said Jones. “It’s been just levee construction and levee maintenance.”

It was a little eerie walking down the hill into the lumberyard on Wednesday. No sounds of sawing. Palettes were empty. Staging areas were barren. Most of the employees were up on the levee – all wearing life jackets – shoring up the levee.

“Last night, two big tugs came by late - northbound tugs, barges - and they just created a tremendous wave wash,” Jones said.

Just north of the yard is the Highway 84 bridge that connects Natchez to Vidalia, Louisiana. Whenever a northbound barge clears that bridge, wave wash starts pounding on Jones’ levee. The Coast Guard had spotters here on Wednesday and Thursday, watching each one pass and monitoring the size of the wakes.

“What happens is, not only do we have parts of our levee fall away, but it rips this heavy-gauge Visqueen (a type of heavy plastic sheeting). Under here is five feet of fresh dirt," he said. "And when that plastic is ripped, and the waves are coming into it, it’s washing the dirt away and turning it into mud.”

The levee was high enough, for now, but the big question is whether it was strong enough to hold?

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Filed under: Mississippi • Weather
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Taco Joe

    life stinks sometimes. that really is a shame. maybe things will work out for them.

    May 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joey

    Natchez in one of the most beautiful towns in Mississippi.
    An ancestor of mine built a house there before the War Between the States, and it is now a landmark. I have abandoned the notion of buying it back.
    I wish the good people of Natchez good luck with the Mississippi's waters.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. citizen

    Stop the barges now. One family business with this much intrinsic value is easily more important than the commerce river traffic could bring.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grumpster

      Agree...stop the barges until at least down to a fair level below this record flood. Idiots at the helm should be held liable for damages caused by wake. A judge would think that a reasonable person would know their barge caused damaging wake in a record flood, and would thusly halt shipping until the record levels had passed. Get their license know what I mean.

      May 20, 2011 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
    • whatguy

      So his business is worth millions a day? Hundreds of millions a day even? That is the amount of trade that comes from the shipping of goods on the big muddy. It is the whole reason people have built cities and towns near it for a century or 2, because it is the largest natural shipping lane on the continent.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • NOLA Lover

      Oh to be so narrow-minded and self centered to believe that this lone business is righteous enough to shut down the US economy. HELLO!

      May 22, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. meee is right

    A lot easier rebuilding a teensy weensy lumber yard thsn fitting a barge with tires

    May 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. meee is tarded

    Park your computer next to the barges, dolt!

    May 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mercy

    Wasn't Howard Jones a New-Wave singer back in the bad 80's? AND British?

    Who knew his family was into lumber!

    May 19, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Pinksock&Donkeypunch


    May 20, 2011 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. PeterD

    CNN Breaking News. Just In. President Obama has just annouced that he is going to divert FEMA Funds assigned to help Mississippi Flood Victims to support Palestinian cause to redraw Border with Israel going back to 1967.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • tammy

      Really, really. Why would you want to put such non-sense out there. You are an idiot!

      May 20, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mel

    I saw Howard and his men throwing sandbags into the river bank to try and save their levee. I have a suggestion – I have seen road builders use wire mesh enclosure filled with rock to hold back dirt from hillside. Howard could put the sand bags into similar wire mesh enclosure to prevent them from being washed away by the river. Howard, May GOD spare your business and all the families whose livelihood are depended on it.

    May 20, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      Is that the same God who caused the rain to fall? Must have a dual personality or something.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  10. DAJO

    Its more than saving a medium/large sized hard wood mill that manages Timber and is good for the Environment, its about the 300 jobs this Mill represents. Those 300 employees have families, spend money in the town.The Jones' have College degrees and can get another job. It will be a huge hardship for the 300+ people that depend on this job. So stop the river traffic for a few days.

    May 20, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  11. Maurice

    Well welcome to the club folks. Thousands of families around the world have lost whatever legacy they had to floods, earthquakes, tsunamies, etc. Some even lost some, most, if not ALL of their family members. So count your blessings that you live in America where you can always MOVE somewhere else much safer.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. canrunr

    Our prayers are with these people, I am a third generation bussiness owner. Our store is 2 blocks away from the Mighty Ohio River. Luckly we do have a flood wall system here in place, after the 1937 flood. But there is always the chance something can go so terribly wrong. Good Luck and God Bless

    May 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. NOLA Lover

    Just wondering if this lumber company uses the river to transport his lumber.
    As frustrating as it might be to constantly rebuild and protect his levee due to the river traffic, it IS necessary to continue shipping. The US can not afford to have its economy suffer by halting traffic on one of the main arteries of US transportation. All eyes of the government are watching this river closely. There are many restrictions that have been added in addition to normal restrictions to ensure safety.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. former Ntz Rez

    They are using Hesco baskets for keeping the water back. It is a wire box that is filled with sand. When I read this article, I was under the impression that the citizens were doing all they could to keep the banks from washing off any more and that they were working hard to save this business. Jones lumber does employ a lot of people in Natchez. Maurice, you are so unsympathetic. Apparently, you have never had to deal with something this threatening before. This lumber company is this family's life and they are fighting it with all their might to save it.

    May 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |