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Floodwaters rise, Corps opens another spillway

Floodwaters rise, Corps opens another spillway

Water, like too many people headed for too few exits, was continuing to stack up on the Mississippi River, with a forecast that by May 11 river stages all up and down the river would approach levels not seen since the 1937 flood.

As mighty as the Mississippi River is, it has simply been unable to handle the extraordinary volume of water crammed into its banks from April and early May deluges and near-record snowfall farther north.

Every community has had a story to tell.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew up the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri to take pressure off the levees and floodwalls at Cairo, Ill., flooding over 130,000 acres of prime farmland. This cropping season, and possibly more, is lost.

The U.S. Coast Guard shut down barge traffic on the Mississippi River through Caruthersville last Friday, because the wake from barge traffic was spilling over the town’s floodwalls. They were planning to reopen the river later that day, but were to limit the number of barges and speed.

In Memphis, the Mississippi was expected to crest at 48 feet on May 11, second only to the 1937 flood. Water was already backing up into tributaries and low lying areas. For many Memphians, this is the second year in a row that floodwaters have invaded their homes. The waters are creeping into the exclusive Harbor Town development in downtown Memphis. Workers are sandbagging The Pyramid. The Memphis in May barbeque contest moved to higher ground as floodwaters lapped over its traditional location in Tom Lee Park.

All nine of Tunica’s casinos have been closed due to flooding and will likely remain closed for three to six weeks. The gaming market is about $10 million per month.

In Arkansas, a portion of I-40 was shut down due to flooding , and some communities have been evacuated. Gov. Mike Beebe said the rerouting of I-40 traffic through small Arkansas towns has extremely difficult for the towns to handle.

On Monday May 9, the Corps’ New Orleans District opened the Bonnet Carré spillway  to keep the volume of Mississippi River flows from exceeding 1.25 million cubic feet per second. The spillway, 28 miles above New Orleans, may be open for an estimated two- to four-week period.

The Corps' New Orleans District has asked  permission to operate the Morganza Floodway northwest of Baton Rouge, which would require the evacuation of people and livestock, and removal of personal belongings for communities within the Atchafalaya River Basin. A Corps statement says the floodway is operated “when existing conditions, combined with predicted stages and discharges indicate that mainline levees in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and other downstream communities will be subjected to unacceptable risk from high water.

No decision had come at press time. The Corps has released a map showing the possible impacts of opening the floodway.

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