May 9, 2011 8:43 AM by Nichole Larkey & AP
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Forecasters say the Mississippi River could crest late Monday 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 Monday.
Wharton 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 Monday night, at or near 48 feet (14.63
meters). Forecasters had previously predicted the crest would come
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 (14.84-meter) record, set by a devastating 1937
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.
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
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
For Cedric Blue, the flooding in his south Memphis neighborhood
near the overflowing Nonconnah Creek is a source of frustration and
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 that were 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.
He became emotional talking about how he has about 7 feet of
water in his backyard and less than a foot inside the house, which
his mother owns. They were in the middle of a remodeling project
when the flood hit.
Blue said he wants the city, county or the federal government to
give him a hotel voucher so he does not have to go to a shelter.
"I just want a new life and relocation," Blue said. "I would
like the elected officials to come down here to see this with their
own eyes and see what we're going through."
Flood waters were about a half-mile (800 meters) from the Beale
Street's world-famous nightspots, which are on higher ground.
The river already reached record levels in some areas upstream,
thanks to heavy rains and snowmelt. It 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 river have been inundated.
And there's tension farther south in the Mississippi Delta and
Louisiana, where the river could create a slow-developing disaster.
There's so much water in the Mississippi that the tributaries
that feed into it are also backed up, creating some of the worst
flood problems so far.
Downriver in Louisiana, officials warned residents that even if
a key spillway northwest of Baton Rouge were to be opened,
residents could expect water 5 to 25 feet (1.5 to 7.5 meters) deep
over parts of seven parishes. Some of Louisiana's most valuable
farmland is expected to be inundated.
The Morganza spillway, northwest of Baton Rouge, could be opened
as early as Thursday, but a decision has not yet been made.
A separate spillway northwest of New Orleans was to be opened
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 of 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.