Mississippi River washes over evacuated Delta neighborhoods

Mike Sims returns from the family fishing camp with furniture as he prepares for the onslaught of water from the Morganza Spillway in Butte LaRose, La., on Wednesday.
DAVID GRUNFELD / THE TIMES-PICAY | AP
Mike Sims returns from the family fishing camp with furniture as he prepares for the onslaught of water from the Morganza Spillway in Butte LaRose, La., on Wednesday.
Floodwaters invade downtown Wednesday in Vicksburg, Miss.
Robert Ray | AP
Floodwaters invade downtown Wednesday in Vicksburg, Miss.
Inmate trustees from St. Martin Parish Correctional Center make sandbags for residents in Stephensville, La., on Wednesday in preparation for impending flooding from the likely diversion of Mississippi River floodwaters into the Atchafalaya Basin.
Gerald Herbert | AP
Inmate trustees from St. Martin Parish Correctional Center make sandbags for residents in Stephensville, La., on Wednesday in preparation for impending flooding from the likely diversion of Mississippi River floodwaters into the Atchafalaya Basin.
Floodwaters invade downtown Vicksburg, Miss., on Wednesday.
Robert Ray | AP
Floodwaters invade downtown Vicksburg, Miss., on Wednesday.
Posted May 11, 2011, at 7:23 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — The rain-swollen Mississippi River inundated evacuated neighborhoods in the Delta on Wednesday and washed away precious crops, as residents farther downstream prepared for the looming floodwaters.

After cresting at 47.8 feet Tuesday in Memphis, Tenn., the river’s high waters moved south, reaching 58 feet and growing in Natchez, Miss., according to the National Weather Service. The river is expected to crest there at 64 feet on May 21.

Across Mississippi, about 1,000 structures have been hit by floodwaters and officials expect to evacuate between 2,000 and 5,000 people in coming days. Sixteen casinos along the river were closed and three are expected to close later in the week, leaving 13,000 employees out of work and costing state and local governments between $12 million and $13 million in taxes per month, according to the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

In Vicksburg, Miss., 65 homes were underwater, displacing about 250 people, said Deputy Chief Mitchell Dent of the Vicksburg Police department. Crews used bulldozers and dump trucks to fortify levees ahead of incoming floodwaters, as law enforcement patrolled flooded neighborhoods in boats, said Mayor Paul E. Winfield.

“We’re making sure we do all that we can to prepare residents,” Winfield said. “We’re going to get through this.”

The river is expected to crest there at 57.5 feet on May 19, about 1.5 feet above the record crest of 1927, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Evacuated residents might be displaced longer than first expected because the river could take weeks to draw back, said Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. ‘ ‘This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Rent said. “It’s slow to develop and slow to recede.”

Downstream in Louisiana, residents and officials continued to prepare for major inundations and a probable opening of the Morganza Spillway, north of Baton Rouge. That would send water levels of up to 25 feet into the lower Atchafalaya Basin, but reduce the likelihood of flooding in more populated cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Water levels have not yet reached the “trigger point” of 1.5 million cubic feet per second at a gauge north of Baton Rouge to open the floodgates, but a decision could come as soon as Saturday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened 38 more gates to the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco, La., diverting floodwater into Lake Pontchartrain. So far, 110 of the 350 gates to the spillway have been opened.

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