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The losses sustained by the railroads were about $4,000,000, or a little more than 5 per cent of the total amount.
As stated before, these figures are approximate only. They were compiled with care and it is believed that any errors would lean toward the conservative side as a whole. There were innumerable losses of many kinds that could not be reduced to the basis of dollars and cents, and if the actual truth concerning these could have been ascertained, it is probable that the totals as given above would be exceeded by several millions of dollars.
Above Cairo, where there was little overflow, the total losses were but a little over $1,000,000. In the Memphis district, where the overflowed lands comprised an area of 3,142 square miles, the losses were about $12,000,000, or nearly $4,000 per square mile, of which nearly $1,000 per square mile was in crops, actual or prospective. It was assumed that 15 per cent of the overflowed area would not be replanted, and that 30 per cent of the remainder would bear only a minimum crop because of the late planting. In the Vicksburg district the overflowed area was 5,463 square miles in extent and the losses as furnished totaled $26,858,000, or about $4,900 per square mile, of which over $2,600 per square mile was in crops, actual or prospective, it being assumed that not more than two-thirds of a full crop would be raised during the year. In the New Orleans district the overflowed area amounted to about 9,000 square miles and the losses were estimated at $31,067,700, or about $3,452 per square mile, of which about $1,541 per square mile was in crops, actual or prospective.
The total extent of the overflowed area was 17.605 square miles, or 59 per cent of the entire area subject to overflow previous to 1897. This would make the average loss per square mile about $4,440, of which nearly $1.980 per square mile was in crops. actual or prospective. In 1897 the overflowed area amounted to 13.578 square miles, about 4,000 square miles less than in 1912, and about 45 per cent of the entire area subject to overflow, or 14 per cent less than in 1912. In 1903 the water overflowed an area of only 6,820 square miles, or slightly less than 23 per cent of the entire area subject to overflow. No estimates were made of the losses occasioned by these two latter floods, but they were doubtless less per square mile than in 1912, as both occurred earlier in the season, thereby largely reducing the item of prospective crop loss. Values were also considerably lower in 1897 and 1903 than in 1912.
THE WORK OF THE WEATHER BUREAU IN THE FORECASTING OF FLOODS.
The most important function of the Weather Bureau in connection with the conduct of its river and flood service is the preparation and issue of river forecasts and flood warnings. It is not a matter of general knowledge that forecasts of coming stages are issued daily along all the navigable rivers, and that to the uniform correctness of these forecasts is due a large share
of whatever of success and prosperity has attended river navigation. Flood forecasts are issued for all except the smallest rivers, and with this feature of the work the public is more familiar.
Precision in the work of river and flood forecasting was first attempted in 1892, and since that time the work has been prosecuted with such constantly increasing success and accuracy that at the present time the variations of the actual from the forecast stages in all except the precipitous mountainous streams are practically negligible, and this notwithstanding the fact that the work from Cairo southward has been greatly complicated at times by reason of levee crevasses. Let us quote briefly from Bulletin E, Weather Bureau, Floods of the Mississippi River, Section IV, paragraph 83:
The essential duty of the Weather Bureau in this work is the issuance of warnings of impending floods. For this purpose the official at each river center is assigned a certain territory, for the proper warning of which he is held responsible. From the press reports and other sources of information it appears that this duty was well performed in the late flood (1897). The conditions having become critical, a special warning was issued from the Washington office on March 15 that "the impending flood will prove very destructive in Arkansas and northern Louisiana." Again, on March 19, a special warning was issued that "the floods in the lower Mississippi during the next ten days or two weeks will, in many places, equal or exceed in magnitude and destructiveness those of any previous years, and additional warning is given to the residents of the threatened districts in Arkansas, Louisiana, and western Mississippi to remove from the region of danger." Indeed, so completely was the public warned, that it caused criticism in certain quarters that the bureau was needlessly alarming the people in the threatened districts. Subsequent events, however, fully justified the action of the Weather Bureau.
Similar criticism was made during the flood of 1903 and again during the present year, but in less pronounced form, as previous said experiences had taught the people that the warnings of the Weather Bureau must be taken at their full significance if loss of life and property are to be avoided. It is estimated that during the flood of 1897 property to the value of $15,000,000 was moved to places of safety as a result of the Weather Bureau warnings, and an equal amount, at least, during the flood of 1903. During the flood of 1912, according to such estimates as were obtainable, property to the value of $16,180,000 was saved, of which about $10,000,000 was in the district below Vicksburg, Miss. The total annual cost of the river and flood service for the entire country, including telegraph and telephone tolls is about $80,000, or only about one-half of 1 per cent of the value of the property saved in this one flood.
Specific warnings were issued each day during the flood, and they covered periods of time ranging from three or four days to more than four weeks in advance. The warnings for New Orleans were issued nearly five weeks in advance, and were not changed in the interim except as to the date of occurrence of the crest stage, the numerous crevasses at times interfering with the rate of streamflow.
General warnings and statements were also issued from time to time at the central office at Washington. A specimen bulletin follows:
U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
WEATHER BUREAU, Washington, D. C., April 3, 1912.
SPECIAL FLOOD BULLETIN.
The river situation is critical from Cairo to the mouth of the Mississippi. If the levees hold, the floods will doubtless be the greatest of which the Government has record.
Considering the water now in sight, and without any further heavy rain, the Mississippi River below Vicksburg will rise until the early part of May, and if the levees hold the river will reach about 52 feet at Natchez, 42 feet at Baton Rouge, 33.5 feet at Donaldsonville, and 21.5 feet at New Orleans. These figures are from 1 to 1.5 feet higher than any previous record.
The warning issued Tuesday for at least 44 feet at Memphis by Saturday or Sunday, if the levees hold, is repeated and preparations should be made accordingly. The highest water at Memphis previous to the present flood was 40.3 feet on February 3, 1907.
At Vicksburg the 50-foot stage will be passed by Saturday or Sunday, and if the levees hold a stage of between 53.5 and 54 feet is likely to occur later. The highest known water at Vicksburg is 52.5 feet, which occurred on April 16, 1897.
Helena, Ark., will pass the 50-foot stage some time to-day and continue to rise, but the greatest stage can not be forecast at this time, owing to the uncertainty as to the overflow water above.
At Cairo the stage of 56 feet, which was forecast yesterday to occur within three or four days, will not be reached because of the breaking of the levees below the city, and it is probable that the greatest stage will be reached within two days, but not much over 54 feet.
Warnings of the beginning of these floods were issued by the Weather Bureau as early as March 16, and in each case have preceded the arrival of flood stages. WILLIS L. MOORE, Chief U. S. Weather Bureau.
These bulletins, as well as all forecasts and warnings, were given the widest and most liberal distribution through the medium of the telegraph, the telephone, the mails, railroads, boats, special messengers, and every other available means, so that all the inhabitants of the flooded districts were given ample advance notice as well as the fullest information during the progress of the flood.
A great many testimonials, press and otherwise, were received. These paid tribute to the work of the Weather Bureau in connection with the flood.