May 8, 2011 11:41 PM by Chris Welty
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) - The swollen Mississippi 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. That much was clear Sunday
from an unexpected smell - barbecue - in a neighborhood that
already lost three houses.
With the river just feet from her single-story home, Shirley
Woods had the grill going in the backyard, cooking ribs, pork
chops, chicken and hot dogs. She was getting ready to make potato
When she woke up at first light, she was prepared to leave if
the Mississippi had gotten high enough, but she decided she had
time to at least celebrate Mother's Day here with relatives.
"I'll give it another day, and if it comes up much higher,
we're getting out of here," Woods said.
Memphis residents have been abandoning low-lying homes for days
as the dangerously surging river threatened to crest at 48 feet
(14.63 meters), just shy of the 48.7-foot (14.84-meter) record, set
by a devastating 1937 flood.
Officials went door-to-door Sunday, warning about 240 people to
get out before the river reaches its expected peak Tuesday. 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 their homes, others came as spectators.
At Beale Street, the famous thoroughfare known for blues, 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.
Flood waters were about a half-mile (800 meters) from the
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.
Along the overflowing Nonconnah Creek in south Memphis, Cedric
Blue has watched water engulf three homes on his street. Blue has
lived in his one-story house since he was born, and fears the
rising water will wash away a lifetime of memories.
A yellow "No Outlet" street sign near his house was nearly
covered. A garbage can floated in the high water.
Blue was angry that he hadn't seen any officials in his
"I just want a new life and relocation," he 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."
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
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.