May 6, 2011 in Nation/World

Rising waters threaten to swamp communities

Adrian Sainz Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

People gather on Union at Riverside Drive, on Thursday, fording some of the standing runoff under the trolley bridge as they look out over the swollen Mississippi in Memphis, Tenn.
(Full-size photo)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Mud Island, which juts into the Mississippi, pays homage to the mighty river with an elaborate scale model of it, a museum about its history, and a paddlewheel steamboat that looks like something straight out of “Huckleberry Finn.”

But now Mud Island is getting too much of the Mississippi.

Rising waters practically lapped at the back porches of some of the island’s expensive houses Thursday, and homeowners weighed whether to stay or go.

Up and down Ol’ Man River, from Illinois to Louisiana, thousands faced the same decision as high water kept on rolling down the Mississippi and its tributaries, threatening to swamp communities over the next week or two. The flooding is already breaking high-water records that have stood since the 1930s.

“I’m going to sleep thinking, ‘I hope they don’t evacuate the island and we wake up and we’re the only ones here,’ ” said Emily Tabor, a first-year student at the University of Tennessee’s College of Pharmacy in Memphis who lives on Mud Island.

Emergency officials warned that residents may need to leave their homes as the river rises toward an expected crest next Wednesday of 48 feet – about 3 feet higher than on Thursday. The record in Memphis, 48.7 feet, was set in 1937.

On Thursday, the Mississippi spilled over a park and onto Riverside Drive in downtown Memphis. Water pooled at the lowest end of Beale Street, the most famous thoroughfare in the history of the blues, but it was about a half-mile from the street’s popular restaurants, shops and bars.

Farther south, the Mississippi Delta was starting to flood, too. In Greenville, Miss., the yacht club was submerged and two floating casinos were closing down. In Rolling Fork, the birthplace of bluesman Muddy Waters, Highway 61 was expected to become impassable.

In Missouri, the Army Corps of Engineers blew a third hole in a levee to relieve pressure and prevent catastrophic flooding there and in Illinois and Kentucky.

In Arkansas, truckers tried to rearrange their routes to avoid a 23-mile stretch of Interstate 40, a major link between the East and West coasts, where the rising White River forced the closure of lanes.

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