Rains Continue to Swell Mississippi River, Force Evacuations

April 14, 2008

With a quarter million acres of farmland already under water and scores of residents forced from their homes, predictions now call for the Mississippi River to crest late this week at levels not seen since the 1973 flood.

Continuing heavy rains in the Arkansas and Mississippi river valleys have forced forecasters to continuously revise their predictions.

Seven inches of rain in Arkansas and 4 inches around Memphis last week are pushing the flood stage even higher.

Current forecasts call for the river to crest at more than 7 feet above flood stage along some of the state’s river points.

“If you look back on the past 30 days, areas in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys have gotten 15 to 20-plus inches of rain,” National Weather Service senior hydrologist Marty Pope said. “In some places, that’s about half of normal yearly rainfall.”

At Natchez the river reached a height of 56.7 feet above gauge zero in 1973. The prediction now calls for the river to crest thee at 56.5 feet, the fourth highest reading recorded.

The rising waters mean more farmland and homes along the river will be flooded and will stay under longer. It took more than a month for the river to recede in 1973. That could be the case again.

“What is going to keep the river up longer is that we are still going to get a secondary crest up the river,” Pope said. “That won’t make the water rise higher, but it will leave it up longer.”

However, flooding could be less severe this year compared to the ’73 flood for a number of reasons, said Robert Simrall, chief of water control for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg Division.

“The tributary impacts aren’t as problematic this year,” he said. “In ’73, we received over 12 inches of rain locally in the month of the flood, which had all the tributaries to the river really backed up. During this flood, we haven’t had hardly any rain locally, it’s all coming from widespread rainfall in areas far north of Vicksburg.”

The situation for farmers is getting worse, Warren County Extension Service Director John Coccaro said.

“As for the amount of farmland affected right now, I’ve heard about a quarter of a million acres are flooded from Vicksburg on north into Yazoo County,” he said. “This is getting very comparable to the ’73 flood, and by the time they get through adjusting the crest level we may very well be at that level or beyond.”

Fields with standing wheat crops inundated with water have little chance of producing any harvest. And farmers waiting for fields to dry to plant summer crops such as cotton, corn and soybeans have missed ideal planting times.

“It’s a real dilemma, and the farmers really don’t know what to do,” Coccaro said.

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