May 16, 2011 -- The Army Corps of Engineers opened two additional gates at the Mississippi River's Morganza Spillway today, unleashing a wall of water which is now flowing into the spillway at a rate greater than that of Niagara Falls, more than 100,000 cubic feet per second.
At that rate it would take just over an hour and a half to cover the entire island of Manhattan in a foot of water. So far only 11 of the 125 gates have been opened and the Corps plans to open more as the river rises.
The Corps began flooding the spillway on Saturday, opening the floodgates for the first time in 40 years. The goal is to divert the record high waters of the Mississippi away from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, choosing to risk smaller communities in an attempt to avert disaster in the most populous cities.
The Mississippi River crest is not expected to arrive at the Morganza spillway for at least a week and mandatory evacuations are already under way in many places. Neighborhoods in the water's path have turned to ghost towns with sheriff's deputies and members of the National Guard going door to door telling residents to pack up and get out.
President Obama met privately today with families and local officials affected by the flooding in Memphis. He heard their stories and praised their resilience.
Following the meeting, he delivered a commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School where he spoke of the response to the series of natural disasters that have hit the country this spring.
"The success of our economy will depend on your skills, but the success of our community will depend on your ability to follow the Golden Rule -- to treat others as you would like to be treated," he said. "We've seen how important this is even in the past few weeks, as communities in Memphis and all across the South have banded together to deal with flood waters and to help each other in the aftermath of terrible tornadoes."
Shirley Bonnette and Robbie Sweeney, a retired couple who live in Krotz Springs, La., are fortifying their house as fast as they can, putting sandbags and plastic wrap up around the outside and moving furniture up to higher floors.
They said they hope the barriers they create can hold up against the mighty Mississippi.
"I'm a rabbit in the woods being chased by hound dogs, just trying to catch up and get things done," said Sweeney, who plans to ignore the evacuation order and stay in the house he designed and built for their retirement.
"This is my house, this is my dream house," he said. "I don't want to leave it."
Sweeney said he won't let Bonnette to stay with him, however, because she doesn't know how to swim.
"I want to be with him," she said. "Whatever happens, I want to be with him."
Once the water hits it could be as long as three months before it goes down. In Mississippi, 4,000 people are already waterlogged and the river is supposed to crest in Vicksburg, Miss., on Thursday. For those in Louisiana, all they can do is work and wait.
"You just don't know what to expect, you don't know what you're going to have when it's over," Bonnette said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.