May 8, 2011— -- The Mississippi River is expected to rise to historic levels this week, leaving thousands of families from Arkansas to Tennessee with no option other than to abandon their homes.
Authorities are urging residents to evacuate before the next round of storms, which are expected to hit as soon as Monday, a day earlier than originally forecast. River levels could reach as high as 48 feet, just short of breaking records dating back to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, a disaster that killed thousands.
Wary of such dangers, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton warned residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.
"Right now, it seems flooding is mostly related to uninhabited areas, but as the waters of the Wolf, the Loosahatchie, and Nonconnah Creek could rise with additional rainfall, we must alert nearby residents to the dangers," Wharton said.
On Saturday, continuous light rain was enough to prompt worried residents like Larry Hunt to evacuate his family, after he saw several feet of water already flowing into his Memphis neighborhood.
Hunt said he was "looking at another week and a half at least" before he would consider returning to assess any of the damage.
Memphis officials said today that around 1,300 families have been told to evacuate their homes, and 370 people are already staying in shelters.
Northwestern Tennessee was deemed safe from floods Sunday, but the high rivers forced cities and counties south along the Mississippi River to close roads.
"We got at least 91 locations according to the engineers that we need to check out and from there we have to make a decision on which ones have to be closed," Shelby County, Tenn., official Percy Sheldon said.
Beale Street, the historic birthplace of the blues, is now filled with several feet of water. Farmlands and key historic areas have also been swallowed up by the deep waters, and the city could continue to have to deal with extensive flooding.
In Louisiana, officials, residents and volunteers made advanced preparations, like piling up sandbags, and will now wait to see if their state's network of levees withstands waters that are expected to reach 25 feet deep and spill over seven parishes.
The Morganza spillway, northwest of Baton Rouge, La., could be opened as early as Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
As of this morning, the National Weather Service reported moderate flooding near Red River Landing and Baton Rouge.
Engineers say major metropolitan cities along the river have for the most part have been spared.