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Song of the Day for April 29: "Louisiana 27" by Randy Newman

An aerial view of New Orleans, May 3, 1927, which was apparently saved from flooding by the dynamiting of the Poydras levee, which relieved the pressure on other levees guarding the city. Backwater from the St. Bernard parish, which was flooded when the artificial break at Poydras was caused, started seeping into the low-lying industrial section and no great danger to the city was expected to result. (AP Photo)

The rains started long before April 29, 1927, when engineers started blowing up levees along the Mississippi River to create a channel and release 250,000 cubic feet of water threatening New Orleans.

The knockout punch came in mid-April, when 14 inches of rain fell in 18 hours on New Orleans. The choice was to blow up the levees and channel the water away from the city to poorer parishes or take the chance of levees breaching and flooding the city.

The residents living downstream from New Orleans were the losers. National Guardsmen evacuated 10,000 people before they blew up the levees. The people were safe, but everything they couldn’t carry was destroyed as the waters flooded their homes and businesses.

The flood would become the worst in American history. It covered an area bigger than the state of West Virginia. About 500 people died. The damage would be equal to about $1 trillion today.

The flood’s long-term effects lingered after the waters receded. The U.S. built the longest levee system and floodways to avoid future flooding. The flood helped propel Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, to the White House in 1928. It hastened the migration of African-Americans who lost their homes and farms to northern cities to find work.

Randy Newman wrote the song “Louisiana 1927” for his “Good Old Boy” album in 1974. He wrote the song after reading a book about the flood. When he was a child he would visit his mom’s family in New Orleans every summer. The family would tell stories about the flood. The song regained significance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.