MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – Police officers went door to door Friday urging Memphis residents to leave nearly 1,000 homes expected to be inundated by a near-record flood of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Emergency workers handed out bright yellow fliers in English and Spanish that read, “Evacuate!!! Your property is in danger right now.”
All the way south into the Mississippi Delta, people faced the question of whether to stay or go as high water kept on rolling down the Mississippi and its tributaries, threatening to soak communities over the next week or two. The flooding has already broken high-water records that have stood since the 1930s.
Still, because of the system of levees and locks built since those disasters more than 70 years ago, the flooding this time is unlikely to be anywhere near as devastating as it was back then.
In Tennessee, where local officials do not have the authority to order people to evacuate, they hoped the fliers would persuade them to leave. Bob Nations, director of emergency management for Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said there was still plenty of time. The river is not expected to crest until Wednesday.
“This does not mean that water is at your doorstep,” Nations said of the door-to-door effort. “This means you are in a high-impact area.”
Shelby County Division Fire Chief Joseph Rike said about 950 households in Memphis and about 135 homes in Shelby County were getting the notices.
Shelters have been opened, and the fliers include a phone number to arrange transportation for people who need it.
People and businesses could be dealing with the aftermath of the flood for weeks because officials said Friday that it may be the end of May before flooded areas dry out.
Farther south, parts of the Mississippi Delta began to flood, sending white-tail deer and wild pigs swimming to dry land, submerging yacht clubs and closing floating casinos.
The sliver of land in northwest Mississippi, home to hardship and bluesman Muddy Waters, was in the crosshairs of the slowly surging river.
“We're getting our mamma and daddy out,” said Ken Gelston, who helped pack furniture, photos and other belongings into pickup trucks in Greenville, Miss.
His parents' house sits on Eagle Lake, which the Army Corps of Engineers expects to rise significantly.
“We could have 5 feet of water in there,” Gelston said, nodding at the house. “That's what they're telling us.”
A little farther north in Rolling Fork, Miss., the birthplace of McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, tension was high.
“It's weird,” said Lakeysha Stamps, a waitress at the Highway 61 Cafe. “Here we are today and everything's fine. And tomorrow there could be all this water”
The sentiment was the same elsewhere.
In Memphis, residents of a well-to-do enclave on Mud Island, which sits in the river, were getting too much of their beloved surroundings. Rising waters practically lapped at the back porches of some of the island's expensive houses.
“I'm going to sleep thinking, `I hope they don't evacuate the island and we wake up and we're the only ones here,”' said Emily Tabor, a first-year student at the University of Tennessee's College of Pharmacy in Memphis who lives on Mud Island.
Emergency officials warned that residents may need to leave their homes as the river rises toward an expected crest Wednesday of 48 feet – about 3 feet higher than Thursday. The record in Memphis, 48.7 feet, was set in 1937.
Water pooled at the lowest end of Beale Street, the most famous thoroughfare in the history of the blues, but it was about a half-mile from the street's popular restaurants, shops and bars and did not threaten any homes or businesses. Water also swamped a county airport.
Burdeau reported from Greenville, Miss.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)