Tennessee Flooding

Derrick Currie sits near fishing lines he cast into flooded farmland on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 in Ripley, Tenn. Officials say water from the bulging Mississippi River has flooded thousands of acres of farmland in west Tennessee. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

RIPLEY, Tenn. — Wearing wading boots and a wide-brimmed hat, Derrick Currie casts his green fishing line into a pool of brown water along a rural Tennessee road.

In a couple of minutes, he reels in his flapping bounty: A nice-sized catfish that he puts in a cooler to take home.

Currie’s fishing hole looks like a lake, but it isn’t one. It’s farmland inundated by floodwater.

Lush green fields of cotton and soybeans turned into lakes Tuesday as flooding from the overfull Mississippi River covered thousands of acres of farmland in Lauderdale County in west Tennessee.

Officials say about 175,000 acres of farmland are now underwater in the worst time of year. County Mayor Maurice Gaines Jr. says early July flooding means farmers won’t be able to replant in time for the fall harvest, ruining countless numbers of crops.

The Mississippi River was cresting at 35 feet (Tuesday near Ripley. Flood stage is 28 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s been devastating,” Gaines said Tuesday. “These waters couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. Most of the farmers have all their fields planted.”

In February, flooding along the Mississippi, Tennessee and other rivers in the South caused billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and farmland. In late June, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans were available to residents and businesses affected by the February flooding in 19 counties.

Heavy rains caused catastrophic flooding along the Arkansas River in Oklahoma and Arkansas this spring. Trouble is now being seen farther south along the Mississippi River.

Lauderdale and surrounding low-lying counties are used to flooding from the Mississippi and its tributaries, but not this bad. Farmers built makeshift levees to keep the water away, but many have failed, sending rising water into their properties, Gaines said

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. David Kustoff toured flooded areas of the county, located north of Memphis. Kustoff said he would try to get federal assistance for affected farmers, who already deal with high insurance costs.

“It would be one thing if this flooding took effect earlier in the year, where they could still plan,” Kustoff said. “But now we’re in July. It’s very tough to make the rest of the year salvageable.”

Despite the damage to cotton and soybeans, there’s reason to celebrate in Ripley, which is best known for its plump, sweet tomatoes. Gaines says the annual tomato festival planned for mid-July won’t be affected by the flooding.

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