U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Camillo, Charles A. Divine providence: the 2011 flood in the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project / by Charles A. Camillo; with foreword by George C. Grugett and postscript by T. Stephen Gambrell.


As the historian for the Mississippi River Commission and the Mississippi River and Tributaries project, I face the dilemma of leaving behind a record of current events for future generations. Oddly, it is easier for me to document the activities and accomplishments of the commission and the project from one hundred years ago than five or ten years ago. This is because very few paper records exist nowadays. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission generate voluminous amounts of memoranda, studies, correspondence, and briefings, but most can only be found in an electronic format. It was against this backdrop that I endeavored to produce this study.

I do not view the pages that follow as a historical study, although I do incorporate historical material to provide context for key elements of the story. Instead, the narrative is more representative of an eyewitness account of a historic event. During several presentations and speaking engagements that I delivered after the flood, my audiences seemed to want the answer to three basic questions. The first involved the decision-making processes at the three floodways placed into operation in 2011. The second involved the history of the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway. The third involved the absence of a floodway to relieve pressure between the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway and the Old River control complex. This study attempts to addresses those questions.

The chapters that chronicle the 2011 flood rely heavily on my own notes – a diary of sorts – interviews conducted after the event with key players that I identified during my coverage of the flood, daily situation reports from the district offices, daily emergency management briefings that tracked changing conditions, and electronic correspondence. To that end, one of the purposes of this study is to leave behind a transparent record of the 2011 flood so that future historians will have a central repository to work from. Yet, there is one caveat. The flood roughly spanned a three-week period and impacted the entire Mississippi River and Tributaries project system. Naturally, I could not be in all places at once, so coverage is limited to the three floodways and the flood fight in the Vicksburg Engineer District. Heroic flood fights took place along both banks of the Mississippi River from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atchafalaya River from Simmesport to Morgan City. The absence of a detailed discussion at any specific location is in no way intended to trivialize those desperate efforts to convey the flood.

The chapters that provide historical context rely heavily on my personal collection of primary source material accumulated over the past decade in the form of correspondence, technical papers, reports, and Engineering News-Record articles. For those interested in learning more about the history of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, I strongly recommend Designing the Bayous: The Control of Water in the Atchafalaya Basin, 1800-1995, by Martin Reuss and Upon Their Shoulders: A history of the Mississippi River Commission through the advent of the Modern Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, by Charles Camillo and Matthew Pearcy. For those interested in comparing what could have been during the historic 2011 flood to what happened in the valley during the 1927 fl ood prior to the establishment of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, I recommend Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, by John Barry.