Reaching Out

Like most of us, I have watched the news of flooding along the Mississippi with my heart in my throat. I have thought about my many River friends and acquaintances with great compassion as this event unfolds.

Record snowfalls and spring downpours are creating unprecedented water levels, already destroying many homes and thousands of acres of crops. As the massive surge of water makes its way south, many thousands are evacuating and preparing as best they can, then waiting and praying. Such levels of water have not been seen since the historic floods of 1927 and 1937. Many changes in levees and floodways, designed to prevent the destruction that occurred at that time, have been made in the years since then. However, the system has not been tested by flooding of this magnitude. Record water levels combined with the relatively slow pace of the surge is putting enormous stress on the entire system.

This blog has been silent for several months now, as all my creative efforts have gone into the writing and photo editing for the book about my 90-day journey following the course of the Mississippi last fall. Because I made so many wonderful friends during that time – people who shared their homes, hearts and lives with me – I want to reach out now. I want you to know I am holding you in my heart and prayers and to help if I can.  

When the Army Corp of Engineers made the decision to blast the Bird’s Point Levee in order to save the town of Cairo,Illinois, I understood it would flood hundreds of miles of prime farmland in the “boot heel” of Missouri and I imagined the heartache my friends there were experiencing. When I received an email from my good friend, Silvey, whose family has farmed in this area for generations, I realized that my imagining was a pale shadow of the reality. It is impossible to comprehend the full impact of such a thing by watching the news.

After days of waiting and praying, the final decision came that a two-mile stretch of the levee would be blown up on May 2nd. Silvey and her husband, Sam, were at their home near East Prairie,Missouri, when 265 tons of liquid explosives inside the levee wall were ignited. Here are some of her words:

 “Sam watched it live on tv while I stood outside to see the flash. Two minutes later, I got back into the house as the ground began to shake – our house rocked and rolled. The horrific sound and violence of the blast rumbled from east to west. Sam was solemn and sad; he said it felt like an execution. Neither of us cried, but both felt overwhelming grief and loss. We slept very little that night. That blast shook our very lives and will have repercussions for years to come, economically and emotionally.”

Sam and Silvey lost 700 acres of wheat and corn. Sam’s “old home place” and barn are underwater. Many of their friends lost their homes.

As I thought about Silvey’s words and the thousands of others who already have or will have their own stories of this massive event, I realized that I can at least be a vehicle for some of those words to be heard. The 90-day journey of the raindrop was about discovering our diversity and our unity. We are actually all River people wherever we live – it flows through our human hearts and connects us.

 So, I invite you to write to me and share your own story in your own words, or photos, links or suggestions for ways people can help. I will recap what I can and include them here in the blog so we can all be with you and perhaps help in some way. Please share this with others who may want to be involved in some way.

 Just write to me at

 I am looking now at a possible trip to the River very soon to document what I can and do what I can. I will keep you informed as that develops.

 Thanks!  Gayle

About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
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