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Memphis avoids river record, but not flood damage

Floodwater rises on a scoreboard in Memphis, where the river crested near 48 feet Tuesday.

Associated Press

Floodwater rises on a scoreboard in Memphis, where the river crested near 48 feet Tuesday.

MEMPHIS — As many residents here breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday after the lower-than-expected crest of the Mississippi River, others downstream braced for the worst.

The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet, just short of its all-time record of 48.7.

Some homes had polluted floodwaters near their first-floor ceilings, while others were completely submerged. Snakes and other creatures slithered in the foul water, and officials warned of bacteria. Nearly 500 people in Memphis were in shelters.

On the downtown riverfront, people came out to gawk. High-water marks were visible on concrete posts, indicating that the level was dropping slowly.

"It could have been a lot worse. Levees could have broke," said Memphis resident Janice Harbin, 32. "I'm very fortunate to stand out here and see it — and not be a victim of the flood."

President Barack Obama declared Memphis' Shelby County and surrounding counties disaster areas, making them eligible for federal aid.

The passing of the crest was of little consolation for some. "It doesn't matter. We've already lost everything," said Rocio Rodriguez, 24, who has been at a shelter for 12 days with her husband and two young children since their trailer park flooded.

The floods will move south to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico past New Orleans over the next two weeks.

In Mississippi on Tuesday, Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi emergency management agency, predicted: "We're going to have a lot more when the water gets to where it's never been before."

In Vicksburg, at the southern tip of the rich alluvial soil in the central part of the state, the river was projected to peak on Saturday just above the record set during the cataclysmic Great Flood of 1927.

In Carter, Miss., about 35 miles east of the Mississippi, Scott Haynes, 46, estimated he would spend more than $80,000 on contractors to build levees around his house and grain silos, which hold 200,000 bushels of rice that he can't get out before the water comes. "We don't know if we're doing the right thing or not, but we can't not do it."

More than 1,500 square miles of farmland in Arkansas, which produces about half of the nation's rice, have been swamped over the past few weeks, and the economic impact will be more than $500 million, according to the state's Farm Bureau.

— As many residents here breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday after the lower-than-expected crest of the Mississippi River, others downstream braced for the worst.

The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet, just short of its all-time record of 48.7.

Some homes had polluted floodwaters near their first-floor ceilings, while others were completely submerged. Snakes and other creatures slithered in the foul water, and officials warned of bacteria. Nearly 500 people in Memphis were in shelters.

On the downtown riverfront, people came out to gawk. High-water marks were visible on concrete posts, indicating that the level was dropping slowly.

"It could have been a lot worse. Levees could have broke," said Memphis resident Janice Harbin, 32. "I'm very fortunate to stand out here and see it — and not be a victim of the flood."

President Barack Obama declared Memphis' Shelby County and surrounding counties disaster areas, making them eligible for federal aid.

The passing of the crest was of little consolation for some. "It doesn't matter. We've already lost everything," said Rocio Rodriguez, 24, who has been at a shelter for 12 days with her husband and two young children since their trailer park flooded.

The floods will move south to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico past New Orleans over the next two weeks.

In Mississippi on Tuesday, Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi emergency management agency, predicted: "We're going to have a lot more when the water gets to where it's never been before."

In Vicksburg, at the southern tip of the rich alluvial soil in the central part of the state, the river was projected to peak on Saturday just above the record set during the cataclysmic Great Flood of 1927.

In Carter, Miss., about 35 miles east of the Mississippi, Scott Haynes, 46, estimated he would spend more than $80,000 on contractors to build levees around his house and grain silos, which hold 200,000 bushels of rice that he can't get out before the water comes. "We don't know if we're doing the right thing or not, but we can't not do it."

More than 1,500 square miles of farmland in Arkansas, which produces about half of the nation's rice, have been swamped over the past few weeks, and the economic impact will be more than $500 million, according to the state's Farm Bureau.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday that 3 million acres, an area almost the size of Connecticut, may go under water.

Information from Bloomberg News and the Associated Press was used in this report.l said.

"The trigger is 1.5 million cubic feet of water a second going past the Red River Landing," Jindal said. "We are at approximately 1.36 million right now."

The Red River Landing is 63 miles north of Baton Rouge, near where the Louisiana state line moves east from the river. The Morganza floodway is between the landing and Baton Rouge.

The Mississippi, the largest river system in the country and the third-largest watershed in the world, drains 41 percent of the continental U.S., according to the Corps.

"If the Morganza is not opened and the levees are breached, the downstream destruction would be worse," Fred Bryan, a professor emeritus of renewable natural resources at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said in a telephone interview. "Once the river, with that cutting capacity and speed, cuts a hole you better get after it because it's going to erode away the cut very quickly."

The flooding also has interrupted coal shipments to power plants in Tennessee, flooded more than 100,000 acres of Missouri cropland and forced thousands from their homes.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday that 3 million acres, an area almost the size of Connecticut, may go under water.

Information from Bloomberg News and the Associated Press was used in this report.

Memphis avoids river record, but not flood damage 05/11/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 12:05am]

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