RACHEL MARTIN, host:

While storms rage through the Midwest, farther south, huge swaths of land are still covered by floodwaters from the Mississippi River. But many areas were saved by something called Hesco baskets.

These are essentially enormous, rectangular, stackable sandbags, easy to transport, quick to fill. And these baskets are also used to protect U.S. military outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Blake Farmer of member station WPLN has the story.

BLAKE FARMER: Hesco baskets don't appear high-tech. They look like wire trash cans lined with fabric. They come in 15-foot-long sections that collapse down to four inches tall. One 18-wheeler can haul in a mile of flood protection. Pop them up, fill them with sand, and two men can do the equivalent of 1,500 sandbags in 20 minutes.

National Guard crews have been working round the clock, says Sergeant Tehdrick Burton.

Sergeant TEHDRICK BURTON (National Guard): We have gotten these down pretty well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sgt. BURTON: It's almost second nature with these.

FARMER: In south Louisiana, Hesco baskets stretch for miles along low-lying roads, around schools and atop existing levees.

Mr. DUVALL ARTHUR (Emergency Preparedness Director, St. Mary Parish, Louisiana): It's much easier and quicker.

FARMER: Duvall Arthur is the emergency preparedness director for St. Mary Parish.

Mr. ARTHUR: You can cover so much more territory with these. You clip them together, and you fill them with sand, and you're through with them.

FARMER: Some of the Hescos are being reused from Hurricane Katrina. That recycling helps make them cheaper than sandbags. The Corps of Engineers found the baskets cost as much as $5,000 less per thousand feet.

Mr. DENNIS BARKEMEYER (Senior Technical Representative, HESCO): I've got a call from a couple of people telling me that you were going to be down here inspecting our levees (unintelligible).

FARMER: Dennis Barkemeyer is HESCO's senior technical representative. He's been in the field since January, following floodwaters from Canada all the way to Amelia, Louisiana. With an estimated 10 miles of wire baskets in this parish alone, Barkemeyer uses a golf cart to drive along them.

Mr. BARKEMEYER: So this came from the local country club.

FARMER: Quite the ride here.

Mr. BARKEMEYER: You know, I don't mind walking a few miles, but, you know, this being month five of flood-fighting, it's nice to have a little help from the golf course.

National Guard troops are accustomed to the technology. Many have used Hesco baskets in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they fortify forward operating bases. But when holding back water, Barkemeyer says attention to detail is critical.

Mr. BARKEMEYER: If we are 99 percent successful here, we lose. So unless you're perfect on your efforts, it's non-success.

FARMER: So far, the Hesco baskets have impressed emergency officials. In Vidalia, Louisiana, a pyramid of Hescos withstood eight feet of the swollen Mississippi River. Now that they've got their hands on some, emergency officials like Duvall Arthur don't want to give them up.

Mr. ARTHUR: I know the Corps bought them. I'm sure they're going to want them back, but we're hoping we can keep some of them to help us in the future.

FARMER: Arthur says he'd be happy to fold up the Hescos for another rainy day.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Amelia, Louisiana.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.