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Obama in Memphis to meet with flood victims

'We're grateful for your resilience,' President Obama tells families and others affected by the Mississippi River flooding, which has caused billions of dollars of damage in the Midwest and South.

May 16, 2011|By Tina Susman and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times
  • A truck sits submerged in floodwater May 9, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee.
A truck sits submerged in floodwater May 9, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Scott Olson, Getty Images )

Reporting from Louisiana and Los Angeles — President Obama met with victims of the flooding that rocked Memphis, Tenn., as officials in Louisiana continued to fight the river waters raging farther south.

Memphis came within inches of setting a new flood record when the Mississippi River crested last week. Hundreds were forced to flee their homes for higher ground and shelters. The damage in Memphis is expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We're there for you, and we're grateful for your resilience," the White House quoted the president as telling a group of people with whom he met for about 35 minutes. The group included families, state and local officials, emergency personnel and volunteers, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president.

Photos: Mississippi River flooding wreaks havoc in the South

Obama met with the group at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis. He also gave the commencement speech at Booker T. Washington High School, which won a White House contest to earn the president's appearance.

The Mississippi River crested at nearly 48 feet last week in Memphis, during what has turned out to be a historic flood season that has forced the evacuation of thousands of people in states from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. The damage to homes, businesses and crops is expected to be in the billions of dollars.

The Army Corps of Engineers has taken steps to ease the pain of the flooding, which has been like a slow-moving train, winding its way through the South. The corps blew up a levee in Missouri to protect Cairo, Ill., and opened spillways downriver to try to relieve the pressure of the waters on levees.

At least nine gates at the Morganza Spillway, about 40 miles north of Baton Rouge, were open as of Monday morning, and the number is expected to grow to 12. The openings are designed to shave 125,000 cubic feet of water from the river and divert it down the Atchafalaya River Basin.

The flooding in mainly rural Cajun country was designed to protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans from even worse damage as the river crest worked its way south. The state has ordered evacuations throughout the region that is being flooded from the opening of the spillway.

The efforts seem to be having some effect, officials said. The Mississippi is cresting about 2.5 feet down from earlier projections in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Photos: Mississippi River flooding wreaks havoc in the South

Susman reported from Louisiana and Muskal from Los Angeles.

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