Monday, May 9, 2011

Evacuations in Memphis as River Nears Crest

Downtown Mississippi in happier times

Memphis is a city in the western corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers.

Memphis has an estimated population of 646,889, making it the biggest city in the state of Tennessee, the third largest in the Southeastern United States, and the 19th largest in the United States.[1] The greater Memphis metropolitan area, including adjacent counties in Mississippi and Arkansas, has a population of 1,280,533. This makes Memphis the second largest metropolitan area in Tennessee, surpassed only by metropolitan Nashville, which has overtaken Memphis in recent years. Memphis is the youngest of Tennessee's major cities (including Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville and Clarksville). A resident of Memphis is referred to as a Memphian and the Memphis region is known, particularly to media outlets, as the "Mid-South".

Evacuations in Memphis as River Nears Crest
MEMPHIS — The Mississippi River near Memphis is expected to crest Monday evening and emergency officials have spent the last several hours going door-to-door to warn residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.

The Mississippi, which has already caused some flooding in Memphis during the past several days, will top out at 48 feet on Monday at about 7 p.m., said Tracy Howieson, a National Weather Service hydrologist. It is expected to stay at that level for at least 48 hours before slowly receding.

“It will be a prolonged crest at Memphis and in parts downstream,” said Ms. Howieson.

The river had not been expected to crest until later this week, but it has taken on a surge of water in recent days from some of its tributaries, officials said.

During the most recent measure of the river’s level — at 4 a.m. Monday morning — the Mississippi was at 47 feet nine inches.

In all, residents in more than 1,300 homes have been told to go, and about 370 people were staying in shelters, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday morning, Cornelius Holliday, 62, was in his yard watching as water crept toward his low-slung white house.

Around him, streets had been blocked off and an industrial area had been flooded, but Mr. Holliday said he planned on staying, even though he said he had never seen the water get so close.

“What it always did in the past, the low end comes out in the street but it never comes that far,” he said. "In 62 years I’ve never seen it that bad." Mr. Holliday, who was raised in the house along with 13 siblings, said he and his wife plan to go up into the attic once the water reaches his yard, taking their five dogs and the house’s furniture with them.

Already, the dogs’ kennels and his car are under water.

So far, evacuations have not been made mandatory for the area, but city officials have strongly urged residents in areas likely to take on a great deal of water to leave.

The highest recorded level of the river at Memphis came during the 1937 floods when the Mississippi crested at 48 feet 8 inches - some eight inches higher than the crest expected Monday evening.

Much of the flooding in and around Memphis is likely to come from tributaries to the Mississippi, as opposed to the Mississippi itself, Ms. Howieson said.

“We are expecting some backwater effects on creeks and tributaries that flow into the Mississippi,” said Ms. Howieson. “That’s where we are going to see most of the effect. We don’t expect much from the Mississippi itself.”

Down river in Louisiana, the Associated Press reported Monday that the Army Corps of Engineers had opened some floodgates in order to divert water from the Mississippi into Lake Pontchartrain and from there into the Gulf of Mexico.

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