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Flooding forces more evacuations along Mississippi, Ohio rivers

May 6, 2011

cnn

Authorities ordered more evacuations near the Mississippi and Ohio rivers as floodwaters continued to surge southward early Friday, inundating farmlands, highways and homes.

The east-central Arkansas towns of Cotton Plant, Gregory and McClelland were under mandatory evacuations, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management department said.

Waters toppled at least one levee in the area, prompting the evacuation order, the spokesman said. The order affected about 1,000 residents from the three small towns.

In Memphis, Tennessee, riverside parks were flooded and the Shelby County Office of Preparedness warned that homes on the upscale Mud Island were among the 2,832 properties that could be affected by flooding.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop it,” said Ben Ferguson, a syndicated talk show host who lives on the island.

Floods prompted authorities to close more than 20 miles of westbound Interstate 40 in eastern Arkansas. The eastbound stretch of the interstate was also closed Thursday night, transportation officials said.

Arkansas is one of several states along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers dealing with flooding triggered by heavy rains.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would deploy about 150 members of the National Guard to help respond to the impending floods.

The Mississippi River had risen to dangerous levels in several areas in Louisiana, Jindal said, and 14 parishes were under a state of emergency.

Jindal said he had requested that President Barack Obama make a disaster declaration for the state because of “predicted and imminent record flooding.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that it would open a spillway 28 miles upstream from New Orleans to reduce the volume and velocity of the Mississippi River as the record level of water races south to the sea.

The spillway can accommodate about 1.87 million gallons of water per second, diverting it to the Gulf of Mexico by way of Lake Pontchartrain and sparing the low-lying city of New Orleans from high waters. The spillway is scheduled to open Monday, the corps said.

The flooding has already inundated parts of Illinois and Missouri.

Earlier this week, the Corps of Engineers intentionally breached a levee on the Mississippi River to help alleviate water pressure on levees throughout the region. The Corps said the breach would help lower river levels and prevent widespread flooding in communities such as Cairo, Illinois, which sits at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

That city remained under a mandatory evacuation order Friday. Six other southern Illinois communities were under voluntary evacuations.

“We don’t want to get into a situation where people go back to their homes, and then we have to make emergency rescues if something changes,” said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

The floods could affect some areas battered by an onslaught of tornadoes late last month in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Weather officials have said 178 confirmed tornadoes hit the South and the Midwest between April 27-28, and the total, once all is examined, could surpass 300. The twisters caused at least 327 deaths, at least 249 of which were in Alabama, officials said.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said they will be visiting several areas in Alabama on Friday to talk to survivors and highlight the importance of registering for disaster assistance.

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