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Worries ease a bit as Mississippi River crests

VICKSBURG, Miss. — The Mississippi River crested at more than 14 feet above flood stage in Vicksburg on Thursday, a slightly lower-than-expected level that eased worries that water might spill over a nearby levee and inundate thousands of additional acres of farmland.

But officials warned that the flood was by no means over. The river was expected to stay at its crest for several days before beginning a long, slow retreat. It could remain above flood stage until mid June. Some 2,000 city residents have already been forced from their homes.

Also Thursday, authorities reported the first person to die in Mississippi River floodwaters since the river began climbing out of its banks last month in the Midwest — a 69-year-old man who apparently collapsed in the high water. Walter Cook was pulled from the water Tuesday by two firefighters on boat patrol in downtown Vicksburg.

David Day, who owns a restaurant near Cook's home, said Cook — a frequent customer — came in Tuesday asking for a lighter.

Day said he gave Cook a lighter and thought he was going home. Instead Cook went deeper into the water, which soon reached up to his waist. Day said he yelled a warning to Cook, but he kept going. Soon after, Cook collapsed. He was pronounced dead at a hospital Thursday.

At least eight deaths in Arkansas have been attributed to flooding, but those happened in flash floods or Mississippi tributaries.

This year's flooding has tested the limits of Mississippi's $13 billion levee system as the river rose to levels not seen since the 1920s in some places.

Engineers pledged to fix any lingering problems with floodwalls, though there was little threat of any serious breaches, according to Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Mississippi Valley Division.

Worries ease a bit as Mississippi River crests 05/19/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2011 11:43pm]
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