FROM THE VAULT: Pearl River floods of 1979 and 1983

Many in central Mississippi will never forget the devastating flooding and its aftermath
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 5:52 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Whenever the Pearl River gets uncomfortably high, people who lived here back in the 1970s can’t help but remember the Easter Flood of 1979.

The river rose to its highest level ever recorded on the Jackson gauge: 43.28 feet.

Water rushes onto I-55 at Fortification St. in the Flood of 1979
Water rushes onto I-55 at Fortification St. in the Flood of 1979(WLBT)

Low-lying areas along Town Creek near downtown were among the first to flood.

Northeast Jackson neighborhoods east of Old Canton Road were under water that got up to some people’s gutters.

The river backed-up into Hanging Moss Creek, flooding the Kroger on I-55 and the buildings around it. Homes at the Jackson Country Club took on water, along with many in the Eastover neighborhood.

Kroger on I-55 in Jackson in Flood of 1979
Kroger on I-55 in Jackson in Flood of 1979(WLBT)

In downtown Jackson, flood waters went around the dam at Fortification Street and spilled onto I-55, flooding the nearby fairgrounds and the coliseum.

Coliseum and Fairgrounds in Flood of 1979
Coliseum and Fairgrounds in Flood of 1979(WLBT)

WLBT aired a special edition of the documentary program “Probe” at the height of the flood, featuring the latest reports on the rising water from Rae Dillon, Jim Scilligo, Bert Case and Marsha Halford.

Aerial film showed water spilling over the levee near Fortification Street.

The flood lasted about a week, and it left a muddy, stinking mess that took months to clean up.

On May 16, WLBT aired another special report asking the question: Where do we go from here?

There was another disastrous flood just four years later. The water did not get quite as high in the Flood of 1983, but it still inundated many of the same homes and businesses.

Meadow Oaks Park Drive in the Flood of 1983
Meadow Oaks Park Drive in the Flood of 1983(WLBT)

We haven’t had another flood that bad, but only because we’ve been lucky.

Nothing significant has been done to prevent it from happening again. Lots of ideas have been proposed over the years, including the “One Lake” project that is still being evaluated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Until something is done, whenever a flood threatens, people who live close to the Pearl will keep packing up their things and heading to higher ground because of images they remember or have seen from the floods of 1979 and 1983 -- still the worst floods on record in the Jackson area.

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