Airports cope with Mississippi River flood effects

May 19, 2011

Cresting floodwaters exacted severe tolls on some airports, but spared many others along the Mississippi River as residents girded for action from Memphis, Tenn., into Mississippi and Louisiana on May 19.

Mississippi River flooding completely covers Yazoo County Airport in Yazoo, Miss.—one of the hard hit airports along the river.

A lone aircraft flies over the floodwaters.

The runway at Mississippi’s Vicksburg Municipal Airport are closed because of flooding.

Water levels rise, creeping onto the approach end of Runway 1 at Vicksburg Municipal Airport.

Xs are placed on the Vicksburg Municipal runway to signal its closure.

Taxiways near the runway are completely submerged at Vicksburg Municipal.

Roads and interchanges along the Mississippi River have been closed by the flooding.

Temporary yellow Xs at the ends of the runways at Vicksburg Municipal shut down the airport as the flood waters cover part of the runway.

The Memphis-area airports mostly fared well, but an exception was General Dewitt Spain Airport at the river’s edge, flooded and closed until further notice. Two based aircraft sought refuge at unaffected William L. Whitehurst Airport in Bolivar, Tenn., said Jerry Haser, the Hardeman County Airport Committee chairman. Others found safe haven at Charles W. Baker Airport in Millington, Tenn., said AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer Joe Larkins.

To the north of the major flooding, St. Louis Downtown Airport was “unaffected by the flood” despite its proximity to the river, said ASN volunteer John Brendel. Just north of St. Louis, St. Charles County Smartt Airport “had water within 100 yards of the field but it never quite made it to the field. The access roads are on the other side, south of the field, and were not affected,” reported ASN volunteer Leo Lang.

“Yes, we had flooding,” said ASN volunteer Jeff Puckett of the Piggott, Ark., airport. “Ninety percent of the runway was covered in water for over 48 hours. The open front hangars and ramp were also flooded. No aircraft were damaged because of actions by owners to lift aircraft in the hangar and relocate the one aircraft on the ramp to a grass area above the water.”

South of Memphis, in the middle of the zone where waters were cresting late in the week, sits Byerley Airport, in Lake Providence, La., a single-runway strip just west of the river about 25 miles north of Vicksburg, Miss.

Lamar Perry answered the airport telephone early May 19.

“We’re open for business, for what it’s worth,” he said. 

Perry expressed some relief that crest forecasts for the river had been lowered at Vicksburg, as reported in the Vicksburg Post. The river had already topped to the north at Greenville, Miss., about a foot lower than early forecasts.

Sill, said Perry, the river was “real high,” and it would be a slow fall—two or three weeks perhaps—and he wouldn’t be breathing easier until the river was below the 50-foot level. 

As news flowed in from airports along the river about what the local media were now calling the Great Flood of 2011, a mixed picture emerged.

Waters early in the week start to cover Yazoo County Airport. Photo credit: Beth Duff

To the east at Yazoo City, Miss., the Yazoo County Airport sat under several feet of water in a region that suffered some of the worst damage from the flooding as backflow from the Mississippi River raised the smaller Yazoo River’s levels.

Fortunately, the based aircraft were able to get out of harm’s way before the flood arrived, said ASN volunteer Cantrell Wilson.

To the south, it was a closer call at Vicksburg Municipal Airport, where flood waters squeezed operations but did not appear to have caused serious damage.

“There’s a little bit of water on the south end of the runway, but nothing too bad,” said Operations Manager Frank May when contacted by AOPA on the morning of May 19. Displaced thresholds were in effect on the 5,000 foot Runway 01/19.

May said the river was expected to crest that morning at a lower level than originally predicted. The runway would be clear full length in a week and a half to two weeks, he predicted. Although no serious damage had been observed, runway lights would be inspected after they re-emerged from the water.

An employee who answered the telephone at nearby Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport said operations there were unaffected.

Downriver, residents waited to see if the Army Corps of Engineers decision to open floodgates north of Louisiana’s biggest cities would spare those population centers the worst-case scenario of flood damage.

False River Regional Airport is open and dry,” reported ASN volunteer Alfred Spain of the airport in New Roads, La. “It is located between the Mississippi River levee system to the north and east and the Morganza Floodway levee system to the west. The only restriction has been an intermittent TFR (temporary flight restriction) for 5 nautical miles around the Morganza Floodway Gate Facility.”

“We have not had any flooding yet in the New Orleans area due to the opening of both the Bonnet Carre Spillway and subsequently the Morganza Spillway,” reported Erin Seidemann, ASN volunteer at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. “If the river levees hold, we are not expecting any flooding.”

There were occasional lighthearted moments to break the tension of the day’s reports. At Lake Providence, Perry reminded a caller not to expect either fuel or runway lights on arrival.

Flood damage?

“Lack of funds,” he replied.