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Mississippi River expected to crest in Memphis today

The Mississippi River is expected to bring near-record flooding to Memphis. It had been expected to crest Tuesday, but the forecast has been moved up to Monday. 'We don't have as much time, but fortunately we're ready for it,' Mayor AC Wharton Jr. says.

May 09, 2011|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

Memphis braced for the raging Mississippi River to overflow its banks Monday and bring near-record flooding to the streets known for its music, especially the blues.

Memphis mayor: An earlier version of this article gave the name of Memphis' mayor as A.C. Wharton Jr. He spells his first name, AC, without periods.

"We don't have as much time, but fortunately we're ready for it," Mayor AC Wharton Jr. said on "The Early Show" on CBS. "Door-to-door is a key thing that we're doing," he said, explaining efforts to notify people of the danger. The city has also stepped up security patrols to prevent looting of property temporarily abandoned by those seeking the safety of higher ground.

The Mississippi River has been rising for days, giving residents a chance to flee before the crest, which had been expected to occur Tuesday.

But forecasters have moved up their predictions, now saying they expected the river to crest sometime Monday, cutting about 24 hours off the preparation time and forcing residents to move a bit more quickly than they had expected.

Residents in more than 1,300 Memphis homes have been told to leave and about 370 people were staying in at least four shelters, according to city officials.

The Shelby County Office of Preparedness said on its website that it expected more than 3,000 properties to be affected by the flooding. Of that number are 949 single-family residences, 12 apartment complexes and six schools. About 225 businesses could be affected.

Memphis is the county seat of Shelby County.

According to the National Weather Service, the Mississippi is expected to crest Monday night at about 48 feet. The previous record is 48.7 feet, set in 1937. That flood killed 500 people in several states and inundated 20 million acres of land.

The current flood threat is due to a series of April storms that flooded rivers in several states. The Mississippi has already reached record levels in some areas upstream, thanks to heavy rains and snowmelt. Kentucky and northwest Tennessee seemed to have been spared, however.

But further south in the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana, things have worsened as the Mississippi River and tributaries have backed up.

The Army Corps of Engineers has announced it has opened floodgates about 30 miles from New Orleans and that it is seeking permission to open gates north of Baton Rouge.

The water is raging, Col. Vernie Reichling, of the corps' Memphis district told reporters.

"This water that we're seeing coming by is moving 2 million cubic feet per second," he said. "To use an analogy, in one second that water would fill up a football field 44 feet deep."

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