A tale of two cities along the Mississippi River

VIDALIA, La. - Natchez, Mississippi occupies a prominent bluff overlooking the big river. A tourist attraction, the city is well off and mostly dry, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.

Just across the water, in the lowlands, lies Vidalia, Louisiana -- a working class town on the edge of a ruinous flood.

At least 300 people are out of work there now and riverfront businesses that are out of commission.

The convention center, the hotel, hospital and medical building are inches from inundation and losing as much as $1 million a month.

"It's a shell," said Dr. John White.

The staff and the patients at the medical building were out of business after the makeshift dikes went up and the evacuation orders went out.

"Normally at this time of day this place would be buzzing around here," said Dr. White.

Now, empty halls, empty rooms, empty beds.

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But that's when a call came in from across the water.

"That's just the way Natchez is. We want to help in any way we can. It's not an obligation," said Natchez mayor Jake Middleton. "It's just a need and a want to help."

In no time, White and his colleagues were housed in the Natchez medical center.

His staff is back at work. His patients know the new address -- it's as much as he can hope for.

The Humane Society set up a shelter in Natchez for the pets of Vidalia.

"They feel it's a part of their family, but they can't take them where they're going," said Lydia Sattler of the Humane Society. "It's difficult. It's a very emotional time."

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Elsewhere farmers offered grazing land for displaced livestock.

And the Red Cross manned a post in Natchez with beds at the ready for their neighbors.

The two mayors said the cooperation of their cities made them reflective.

"What takes it seems like sometimes is crises and disasters like this to bring us all together as one unified group," said Vidalia mayor, Hyram Copeland. "I don't understand why we can't do this all the time as a nation."

For now they are united on this stretch of the Mississippi.

As Mayor Copeland put it: The only thing that separates us is the river.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.