Mississippi Flooding: River Cresting, Louisiana Prepares for Rising Waters

Water passes peak in Memphis, flows toward Louisiana.

ByABC News
May 10, 2011, 1:57 AM

May 10, 2011— -- As the swollen Mississippi River continues to rush downstream, flood-level water is heading directly for some Louisanna communities still recovering from last year's devastating oil spill and possibly forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate. Many neighborhoods of Memphis, Tenn., remain submerged in dirty, debris-strewn and reptile-infested water.

The National Weather Service said the Mississippi River has reached 47.85 feet, according to the Associated Press.

The river will continue to press against Memphis levees for at least the next few days, officials said. The Mississippi there has swollen to six times its average width.

Further south, residents of Vidalia, La., have been warned to start working on an evacuation plan. City officials have already evacuated the local hospital. Vidalia is directly located across the river from Natchez, Miss.

Officials said the river is expected to crest at a record level there on May 21. Businesses owners and residents have been preparing for the worst by filling sandbags.

Although Vicksburg and Natchez were far enough inland to be spared the worst from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, memories of flooded streets and grandmothers waving white flags from rooftops remain seared into the community's collective memory.

"I've been through several floods. And this is the big one. And I am very nervous," said Carla Jenkins, a business owner in Vidalia.

Click here to find ways to help people affected by the flooding.

Record flooding is also expected in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, La.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned on opening three major spillways in Louisiana today and possibly the Morganza and Atchafalaya Spillway near Baton Rouge, which could force hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate some areas, but would alleviate the strain on city levees.

Opening these spillways would also push water directly towards communities affected by last year's oil spill and drown some of the richest farmland in the country. The rushing freshwater would also flow into several oyster beds, killing the seawater-based molluscs and ending any oyster harvesting this year.

Authorities call this a necessary evil to protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans from major flooding.

Memphis Keeps Close Eye on Flood Waters

In Memphis, though the river has crested, the danger of flooding has not disappeared. While the river's maximum elevation may have been reached, officials said they will continue to monitor the levees.

"We're going to wait until the water goes down a whole lot more and then we'll celebrate success," said Cory Williams of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Authorities expected the levees will protect the city's landmarks, Graceland and Beale Street.

Bob Nations Jr., director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency, told the Associated Press that officials are looking to start the cleanup as water levels begin to pull back.

"They're going to recede slowly, it's going to be rather putrid, it's going to be expensive to clean up, it's going to be labor-intensive," said Nations.

Some homes have been inundated and are likely uninhabitable.

Jeff Crawford lived in a mobile home park where his trailer is now full of water.

"My front porch is over here by that trailer," said Crawford. "just floated away."

ABC News' Max Golembo, Jim Ryan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.