Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Flooding Rains Damage Alabama and Tennessee

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, February 24, 2019

America could build infrastructure to PREVENT tragedies like this from happening. And by “tragedy,” I mean to refer to the damage done in the wake of such climatological events – REGARDLESS of their causes, whether human-influenced, or not.

We once did build infrastructure, or rather, attempted to, after the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, when nearly 30,000 square miles of land along the lower portion of the Mississippi River was flooded to depths up to 30 feet, and stayed flooded to that extent for well over two months before receding. That natural disaster displaced well over 1.5 million people, and killed thousands directly and indirectly.

After that, Republican POTUS Calvin Coolidge refused to call a Special Session of the then-adjourned Congress, and rather than initiating governmental action, wanted to raise money to facilitate recovery efforts through bake sales, church raffles and private philanthropy, which he also thought should be dealt with at a local level, rather than Federal. It’s NO exaggeration to write that.

Obviously, that approach didn’t work. So Coolidge, who couldn’t be bothered to go and visit the people in the areas devastated, came under significant pressure for his lackadaisical do-nothing attitude, and assigned the task of “doing something” to then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who – though Stanford-educated as an infamously mediocre student who failed all the entrance exams but mathematics – had led food distribution efforts in post-WWI Europe.

Newspapers were not kind to Coolidge, and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger (in Mississippi) wrote, “It has been necessary to school President Coolidge day by day a bit more towards the realization of the immensity of the catastrophe.”

The Paducah News-Democrat (in Kentucky) wrote that Coolidge had either “the coldest heart in America or the dullest imagination, and we are about ready to believe he has both.”

The New York Times however, saw things differently only because they were unaffected, and wrote, “Fortunately, there are still some things that can be done without the wisdom of Congress and the all-fathering federal government.”

But the Chicago Tribune thought little of the hare-brained scheme, and instead headlined a story with “Coolidge Backs Gigantic Flood Control Scheme,” while their Editorial Board wrote, “Only the resources and jurisdiction of the federal government can cope with the task of flood control.”

Coolidge’s contempt for government was well-known, and he disparagingly said, “If the federal government were to go out of existence, the common run of people would not detect the difference.”

Instead of governmental action, the Coolidge White House started a fund drive and asked the public to donate a significant portion of the money to be used for immediate relief efforts, for which the City of Chicago raised a little under a million dollars by May 10, partially by large (then) contributions like an $8,000 donation by the Clothing Workers Union. However, most of the money came from smaller donations, like a $20 donation from the Camp Fire Girls of Round Lake which they raised through a bake sale. Other private donors included Chicago’s flamboyant Republican Mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson, who toured the flooded areas and spoke at cities nation-wide to urge contributions, donations, and promoted his own flood-control proposals. Notably, he called Hoover’s plan “half-baked.”

Following extensive torrential rains, a 200-foot section of Tennessee Highway 70 North on Clinch Mountain in Hawkins County near Rogersville, in the area of Route 70-N near the Cave Springs Road intersection, was washed away. Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell said trees were reported fallen around 1AM, and shortly thereafter, reports were made of two vehicles driving off into the massive gulch created by the collapse. Kingsport Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team responded to the scene and discovered an injured motorist who had escaped their wreckage, and later around mid-day, a second motorist was recovered deceased.
Hawkins County is located in the NorthEast corner of the state, bordering Kentucky, while Kingsport in Sullivan County to the East, extends into Hawkins County.

Even though numerous Governors, Senators, and Mayors asked Coolidge to visit the flood zone, he refused. Mississippi Governor Dennis Murphree, a Democrat, sent a wire to POTUS Coolidge saying in part that, “Your coming would center eyes of nation and the consequent publicity would result in securing millions of dollars additional aid for sufferers.” But Coolidge refused, and in a further demonstration of his contempt for the people, declined requests from NBC to broadcast a nationwide radio appeal. Even humorist Will Rogers, in his typical homespun dry-witted manner, sent a telegram to Coolidge, which he said could be read at a benefit supper for rescue and rebuilding efforts, and said publicly that Coolidge would probably continue to postpone relief efforts in “the hope that those needing relief will perhaps have conveniently died in the meantime.”

Following extensive torrential rains, a 200-foot section of Tennessee Highway 70 North on Clinch Mountain in Hawkins County near Rogersville, in the area of Route 70-N near the Cave Springs Road intersection, was washed away. Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell said trees were reported fallen around 1AM, and shortly thereafter, reports were made of two vehicles driving off into the massive gulch created by the collapse. Kingsport Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team responded to the scene and discovered an injured motorist who had escaped their wreckage, and later around mid-day, a second motorist was recovered deceased.
Hawkins County is located in the NorthEast corner of the state, bordering Kentucky, while Kingsport in Sullivan County to the East, extends into Hawkins County.

Coolidge thought that any federal legislation dealing with flood relief would create a permanently large role for government and thus reduce or eliminate private efforts, and insisted that any federal role should be limited only to areas flooded in 1927, while Congress differed. Coolidge became intransigent, refused any efforts to compromise, and said that Congress had “lost sight of” the goal of protecting those threatened by floods, and said further that “It has become a scramble to take care of the railroads and the banks and the individuals who may have invested in levee bonds, and the great lumber concerns that own many thousands of acres in that locality, with wonderful prospects for the contractors.”

He thought the bill was pork barrel spending, that corrupt Southerners would siphon away the money, and called the prospective legislation “the most radical and dangerous bill that has had the countenance of the Congress since I have been president.”

Later, Coolidge claimed that the bill was “the best that can be obtained from Congress,” declined a signing ceremony, and reluctantly signed it in private on May 15, 1928, after he finished eating his lunch.

Shortly afterward, Coolidge announced that he would not campaign for a second term as President, speculation arose about naming Thompson as a possible Republican candidate for the 1928 Presidential election , but Herbert Hoover got the party’s nod and won the White House, where he quickly reneged on his promise when the Stock Market crashed. And throughout the Great Depression, Hoover continued resisting taking an active governmental role for any action after the flood, even though he advocated for it shortly after it had occurred.

It wasn’t until New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt “FDR” was elected as President in 1932 that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Soil Conservation Service and numerous other Federal governmental agencies were created, which then began to address the problems made by doing nothing, by building economic infrastructure which purpose was aimed to help mitigate or prevent regularly occurring disasters, and thereby increase the nation’s economic strength, the general welfare of the people, and to ensure and sustain our internal and international security.

Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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This is Wilson Dam, a TVA hydroelectric production facility on the Tennessee River, which separates Lauderdale County in the North, from Colbert County in the South, both in the NorthWest corner of the state. Lauderdale County borders Tennessee, while both counties border Mississippi.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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This image is of a neighborhood in Sheffield, in Colbert County, upon a cliff above the Tennessee River, as viewed from Florence in Lauderdale County on the North side of the river. Note how the water has run off creating a dangerous washout from the yard.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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This image is of O’Neal Bridge spanning the Tennessee River, which separates Florence in Lauderdale and Sheffield in Colbert counties in NorthWest Alabama.

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Image from the Shoals area of NorthWest Alabama (Lauderdale & Colbert Counties), which are separated by the Tennessee River.

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