More evacuations in flood-hit Memphis

2011-05-09 09:13

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Memphis - Tourists gathered along Beale Street and gawkers snapped photos of the rising Mississippi River, even as more residents were told on Sunday to flee their homes and the river's crest edged toward the city, threatening to soak greater pockets of the city.

Officials went door-to-door, warning about 240 people to get out before the river reaches its expected peak on Tuesday. In all, residents in more than 1 300 homes have been told to go, and some 370 people were staying in shelters.

The Mississippi spared Kentucky and northwest Tennessee any catastrophic flooding and no deaths have been reported there, but some low-lying towns and farmland along the banks of the big river have been inundated with water.

And there's tension farther south in the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana, with the river's crest continuing a lazy pace, leaving behind what could be a slow-developing disaster.

Record river levels

Jittery Memphis residents have been abandoning low-lying homes for days as the dangerously surging river threatened to crest at 14.63m, just shy of a 14.84m record of a devastating 1937 flood.

Record river levels, some dating as far back as the 1920s, have already been broken in some areas upstream.

Heavy rains and snowmelt have been blamed for swelling the big river, and there's so much water in the Mississippi, the tributaries that feed into it are also backed up, creating some of the worst flood problems so far.

At Beale Street, the famous thoroughfare known for blues, water pooled at the end of the road, and dozens gathered to catch a glimpse.

Scott Umstead, his wife and their three children made the half-hour drive from the town of Collierville to the east.

Tourists typically flock here in May for a music festival or barbecue championship, but the river had the area buzzing this year.

"It's probably the biggest tourist attraction in Memphis," Umstead said.

Anger at officials


The water on Beale Street was about 800m from the world-famous nightspots, which are on much higher ground.

Cedric Blue's south Memphis neighbourhood was near the overflowing Nonconnah Creek. He watched as the water engulfed three homes on his street.

Blue has lived in his one-story house since he was born, and he fears the rising water will wash away a lifetime of memories.

He was angry that he hadn't seen any officials in his neighbourhood.

"I just want a new life and relocation," Blue said as a garbage can floated in the high water near his house and a yellow "No Outlet" street sign was nearly covered.

"I would like the elected officials to come down here to see this with their own eyes and see what we're going through."

Farmland inundated

Downriver in Louisiana, officials warned residents that even if a key spillway northwest of Baton Rouge were to be opened, residents could expect water 1.5- to 7.5m deep over parts of seven parishes. Some of Louisiana's most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated.

The vital Morganza spillway, northwest of Baton Rouge, could be opened as early as Thursday although a decision has not yet been made.

A separate spillway northwest of New Orleans was to be opened on Monday, helping ease the pressure on levees there, and inmates were set to be evacuated from the low-lying state prison in Angola.

Engineers say it is unlikely any major metropolitan areas will be inundated as the water pushes downstream over the next week or two. Nonetheless, officials are cautious.

Since the flood in 1927, a disaster that killed hundreds, Congress has made protecting the cities on the lower Mississippi a priority, spending billions to fortify cities with floodwalls and carve out overflow basins and ponds - a departure from the "levees-only" strategy that led to the 1927 disaster.
- AP
Read more on:    us  |  floods
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