Insights > Company and community respond to Easter flood of 1979 with ‘magnificent’ levee-building effort

Company and community respond to Easter flood of 1979 with ‘magnificent’ levee-building effort


The Easter flood of 1979 that deluged large portions of Jackson remains one of the capital city’s most destructive natural disasters.
The Easter flood of 1979 that deluged large portions of Jackson remains one of the capital city’s most destructive natural disasters.

The Easter flood of 1979 that deluged large portions of Jackson remains one of the capital city’s most destructive natural disasters. But the crisis also led to one of the most remarkable disaster-response efforts in the history of Jackson and Entergy Mississippi. 

Working against the clock, a community-wide team led by Entergy Mississippi built a giant levee around the South Jefferson Street Substation—a feat that kept downtown Jackson’s underground electrical system dry while preventing further customer outages and property damage.

“We were building the levee as the water was rising,” said retiree Jim Moore, who at the time was manager of Entergy’s service area in Jackson, Madison and Rankin counties. “I remember everybody was so positive, and everybody worked together and had the best attitude. People found out they had more endurance than they realized.”

That year, the forecast for the Easter weekend was blue skies. But upstream of Jackson, the Pearl River that courses through the city had been rapidly rising after recent torrential rainfall. As city leaders became aware of impending floods, they warned residents in affected areas to evacuate while Entergy leaders prepared to protect electrical equipment, where possible, and braced for widespread outages.

As water rises, crews react to protect assets

With water levels creeping higher by the hour, the company decided to take six substations out of service as a safety measure and focus on protecting two that could be saved with levees—the Old Canton Road Substation serving northeast Jackson and the South Jefferson Street Substation serving the downtown area.

Crews were able to build a levee overnight around the Old Canton Road Substation, which allowed it to stay in service and continue providing power to customers who were not directly impacted by floodwaters.

The South Jefferson Street Substation, however, would require a much larger levee. Somehow, the company needed immediate access to thousands of truckloads of sand and dirt along with a workforce to fill and place mountains of sandbags. From many angles, it seemed like an impossible task.

That’s when Moore stepped forward. After being appointed to lead the construction effort by President and CEO Donald Lutken, Moore received permission from the city to close South Jefferson Street to traffic, hired two contractors to haul dirt and sand from Vicksburg, and arranged for law enforcement personnel to escort dump truck convoys.

At 1 a.m. on Easter Sunday, dump trucks and workers began arriving at the Jefferson Street site, where the levee-building effort continued nonstop for five days. The company also brought in pumps to keep the water back. 

“I divided the project into two parts and hired two contractors,” Moore said. “I assigned them each half and gave them the freedom to do what needed to be done. 

It seems like everybody in Jackson wanted to pitch in. All the bank presidents were bagging sand one day. It was really something.”

Communication is key

In the meantime, Moore made himself available for media interviews to provide updates on the levee and let customers know the process for service restoration once floodwaters receded. The flood ended up displacing more than 17,000 residents and affecting around 1,500 homes, which, after renovations, would require safety checks and inspections to receive power again. 

“I was trying to be completely open and accurate, and I think people knew I was telling the truth and had confidence in me, especially over that length of time,” Moore said. “Integrity is key—it’s part of the makeup of the business. People were so nice and kind, giving me credit for a miracle, because nobody thought it would work. It took everybody.” 

In addition to hands-on, community support and coordination, Moore credited Entergy Mississippi’s well-designed electrical system, which consisted of multiple feeds, for preventing more widespread outages during the flood event. 

On April 25, 1979, Entergy Mississippi’s Board of Directors adopted a special resolution addressed to employees and others about the response effort, which directors described as a “magnificent undertaking” that involved “moving more than 5,000 truckloads of dirt to build and maintain levees around two critical substations.”

The resolution also complimented employees for handling service restoration in an “outstanding manner with a minimum of customer inconvenience and dissatisfaction.”

Moore, a native of Jackson and current resident, retired from Entergy Mississippi in 1995 with more than 30 years of service. Reflecting on the extraordinary response effort that took place during the 1979 flood continues to fill him with pride—as a Jacksonian and as a former Entergy employee.

“Fortunately, we were trained to respond correctly,” Moore said. “We were trained to deal with the unknown. The ’79 flood was a crisis that brought out the best in everybody. I could see the total dedication and positive attitude of the workforce. You don’t find that in every business, but at Entergy Mississippi—yes.”

On the 40th anniversary of the flood in 2019, Entergy Mississippi published an article that included recollections of employees and retirees who were involved in the disaster-response effort, a video produced by WLBT about the flood, and the full text of the board’s special resolution.

Mississippi Editorial Team