Mississippi River could crest today in Memphis
Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 9:06 pm
MEMPHIS (AP) — Fore-casters say the Mississippi River could crest late today at Memphis — hours sooner than previously predicted — but the mayor says the city’s ready for it.
Mayor AC Wharton said that despite the tightened timeframe, he’s confident that precautions such as door-to-door warnings have prepared the city.
“We don’t have as much time, but fortunately we’re ready for it,” Wharton told The Early Show on CBS today.
To the South, authorities in Louisiana stepped up their preparations by opening floodgates at a spillway northwest of New Orleans to take pressure off levees in populated areas. Inmates were also being moved from a prison near Baton Rouge.
The Memphis mayor said disasters such as Katrina have shown that you can’t simply get the word out by issuing warnings on TV. Authorities spent the weekend knocking on doors to tell a couple hundred people that they should abandon their homes before they are swamped by waters from the rising Mississippi. Wharton said officials are returning to some houses multiple times.
“Door-to-door is a key thing that we’re doing,” he said, adding there are stepped up patrols to prevent looting in areas where people have left their homes behind.
Forecaster Joe Lowery of the National Weather Service office in Memphis said it looks like the river is starting to level out and could crest as soon as tonight, at or near 48 feet. Forecasters had previously predicted the crest would come Tuesday.
Memphis residents have been abandoning low-lying homes for days as the dangerously surging river threatened to crest just shy of the 48.7-foot record, set by a devastating 1937 flood.
The swollen river has swamped houses in Memphis and threatens to consume many more, but its rise has been slow enough that some people were clinging to their normal lives just a bit longer.
Richard Gordon, 70, was walking his two dogs near a convenience store in South Memphis. He said he doesn’t live in an evacuation area but he has friends who do.
“I’m not frustrated or anything. I’m just waiting for this water to go away,” he said today.
In all, residents in more than 1,300 homes have been told to go, and some 370 people were staying in shelters.
But while some evacuated, others came as spectators. At Beale Street, the famous thoroughfare known for blues music, dozens gawked and snapped photos as water pooled at the end of the road. Traffic was heavy downtown on a day the streets would normally be quiet.
The river is “probably the biggest tourist attraction in Memphis,” said Scott Umstead, who made the half-hour drive from Collierville with his wife and their three children.
Col. Vernie Reichling, Army Corps of Engineers commander for the Memphis district, said the homes in most danger of flooding are in areas not protected by levees or floodwalls, including near Nonconnah Creek and the Wolf and Loosahatchie rivers.
About 150 Corps workers were walking along levees and monitoring performance of pump stations along what Reichling called the “wicked” Mississippi. “There should be no concern for any levees to fail,” he said in a downtown park on a bluff overlooking the river.
For Cedric Blue, the flooding in his south Memphis neighborhood near the overflowing Nonconnah Creek is a source of frustration and anger.
Blue, 39, has watched as the water engulfed three homes on his street, including that of an older woman who had to be rescued in a boat because she had refused to leave.
Blue fears the rising water will ruin his house and his belongings while washing away a lifetime of memories created there.
Sunday afternoon, a garbage can floated in the high water near his house. Some feet away, the water had reached more than halfway up a yellow “No Outlet” street sign.
Published in The Messenger 5.9.11