Chaplains Report on Flooding

May 16, 2011

Flooding this month across the United States has devastated thousands of homes, displacing families and even entire towns. Along the inland river system, record-high waters spell danger for mariners navigating these unpredictable, destructive waterways. Though they continue to move cargo despite the flood, the high waters mean that towboats cannot move with the same swiftness as usual. Chaplains for the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) have been working in locations along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to offer assistance to river transportation industry employees.

Chaplain Winston Rice
Gulf of Mexico Coastal Region

Since the forecast of flooding conditions on the Lower Mississippi River, I have spent a great deal of time reaching out to folks concerning their exposure to floodwaters. I’ve spoken with management and mariners engaged in navigation on the swollen waters of the Lower Mississippi, and let them know that the resources of SCI are available to them. They are heartened by the fact that SCI is aware of their serious situation and concerned for their welfare. I’ve also visited the Morganza Spillway and people living along the Mississippi below there. I ministered to the family of a mariner, who, because of the floodwaters, could not come home for a family emergency. Through this, I’m reminded of the value SCI adds by helping allay the personal concerns and anxieties of those to whom we minister.

Chaplain Michael Nation
Lower Mississippi River & Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Region

High water on the Lower Mississippi is an annual spring event, but this year, as a citizen of Vicksburg and SCI chaplain, I personally witnessed the high water mark of the Great Flood of 1927 replaced with a new record. During the flooding, I ministered to shoreside staff and mariners of inland transportation companies as well as military personnel charged with overseeing the physical structure and navigation on the Mississippi River through in-person visits, phone calls and emails. I am deeply impressed with the resilience and skilled professionalism of our inland merchant mariners who, even through such a catastrophic event, have kept the commerce of our nation moving. I am further impressed with the men and women of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Coast Guard who have spent countless hours and sleepless nights to protect and serve those of us who live in the Mississippi Valley. Their efforts make clear the valuable lessons learned from the dreadful Great Flood of 1927.

Chaplain Kempton Baldridge
Ohio River Region

This year’s extraordinary flooding influenced SCI’s ministry in ways we never anticipated. The high water often made vital state highways impassable overnight, and in one case I was prevented from getting to the scene of a mishap on the Upper Mississippi. In a similar fashion, crew changes were delayed by days or even weeks, causing heartburn for the transportation companies and heartache for both crews and families. With swift currents negating our normal ministry, visiting the shipyards became my primary means of reaching out to towboat crews. I helped provide for crews stranded by the floods by locating favorite books and magazines, arranging chaplain’s visits to hospitalized loved ones, and making a pizza delivery over a 13-foot flood wall.

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As floodwaters cover portions of the United States and as river mariners face the difficulties of these high-water working conditions, Steven Hill, Chief Engineer aboard one of American Commercial Lines’ long-haul vessels, told SCI Chaplain Kempton Baldridge that the people hurt by the flood weigh heavily on his mind. “I’m more concerned right now with the thousands of people who are homeless and in trouble and still expecting trouble,” he said.

The flooding adds to the stress and dangers of work on the river. Instead of being asked to seek higher ground, mariners must remain in the midst of the flood—vigilant in the swift waters of the channel. They have to adapt their work to the new conditions and so must SCI chaplains, offering help in whatever ways they are asked.