MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) — Emergency officials on Sunday issued evacuation notices to more than 1,300 Memphis area homes, warning they were at risk of dangerous flooding as the region braces for the highest Mississippi River crest since 1937.
The Mississippi, which is projected to crest at Osceola, Arkansas, early on Monday, is expected to crest in Memphis on Tuesday at 48 feet (14.5 meters), just inches (cm) shy of the record.
With the crest less than a day away, residents and tourists were recording the river’s rise, snapping photographs of water flowing over Beale Street, the city’s well-known tourist destination, and riding the popular sightseeing riverboats.
“I’ve been on this water 27 years and never seen it this high,” said James Gilmer, a boat captain and tour guide on the Mississippi Riverboats cruise line.
The current was moving at 12 miles per hour (19 kph), more than twice its normal pace of about 5 miles per hour (8 kph), he said.
The Mississippi’s rise there has been gradual at about one foot (30 cm) a day, and downtown Memphis sits on a bluff well above the expected flood levels.
Evacuation warnings have been issued to more than 1,300 area residences, and officials say they expect nearly 3,000 properties to suffer some impact from flooding.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was patrolling a levee west of Memphis to make sure it was holding back water.
“All the levees along the river are expected to hold up to the waters,” said Corps spokesman Kavanaugh Breazeale.
So far, no water rescues have been needed in the Memphis area, said the Shelby County Office of Preparedness said.
“By and large, our communities are functioning, but there are dangerous areas,” said the office’s director, Bob Nations.
Downstream in the state of Mississippi, authorities have warned that up to 5,000 residents may be forced to evacuate.
Record crests are expected at Vicksburg on May 19 and at Natchez on May 21.
A snowy winter spawned near-record crests on the Upper Mississippi this year that reached southern Illinois at about the same time as heavy rain swelled the Ohio River.
The flows prompted authorities to open a Missouri floodway for the first time since 1937 to relieve pressure.
U.S. officials, who expect to activate three floodways for the first time, blew a hole in a levee last week to open one floodway, inundating Missouri farmland to save Illinois and Kentucky towns.
Government engineers plan to open a second floodway, the Bonnet Carre Spillway north of New Orleans, on Monday to divert some of the river’s flow to Lake Pontchartrain.
The Corps also has recommended opening the Morganza spillway farther north to divert water to the Gulf of Mexico west of New Orleans.
Activating the Morganza, which has only been opened once, in 1973, since its construction in 1954, would force people and livestock to evacuate the Atchafalaya River Basin.
Peak flows are not expected to reach the New Orleans area for more than two weeks.
The flooding is set to eclipse crest records set mainly in 1937 and 1927, when the Lower Mississippi swelled to 80 miles (129 km) wide in some parts.
Posted by Haylie Shipp