Forecaster Joe Lowery of the National Weather Service office in Memphis said it looks like the river is starting to level out and could crest as soon as Monday night, at or near 48 feet. Forecasters had previously predicted the crest would come Tuesday.
Memphis residents have been abandoning low-lying homes for days as the dangerously surging river threatened to crest just shy of the 48.7-foot (14.84-meter) record, set by a devastating 1937 flood.
The swollen river has swamped houses in Memphis and threatens to consume many more, but its rise has been slow enough that some people were clinging to their normal lives just a bit longer.
In all, residents in more than 1,300 homes have been told to go, and some 370 people were staying in shelters.
The Mississippi threatens 3,075 buildings, including 949 homes and 12 apartment complexes, in Tennessee’s Shelby County, which includes Memphis, the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Management Agency said yesterday. Exxon Mobil Corp. shut its Memphis fuel terminal on April 29, Kevin Allexon, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.
“A big monster is rising up on the downtown shores and wrapping its arms around the city,” said David Shular, spokesman for Shelby County. “There are crowds of people along the riverbank just to look at it because they just haven’t seen it this high.
Col. Vernie Reichling, Army Corps of Engineers commander for the Memphis district, said the homes in most danger of flooding are in areas not protected by levees or floodwalls, including near Nonconnah Creek and the Wolf and Loosahatchie rivers.
About 150 Corps workers were walking along levees and monitoring performance of pump stations along what Reichling called the "wicked" Mississippi. "There should be no concern for any levees to fail," he said in a downtown park on a bluff overlooking the river.
Flood waters were about a half-mile (800 meters) from the Beale Street's world-famous nightspots, which are on higher ground.
The White River in Arkansas, a Mississippi tributary, set a record crest of 39.43 feet this weekend and dropped to 38.58 feet yesterday.
Across Arkansas, emergency workers are placing sandbags and watching levees holding back the rising rivers, said Renee Presslar, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Emergency Management. Shelters are open in nine counties and at least one nursing home has been evacuated, she said by telephone.
The flooding across the central U.S. was caused by heavy rains falling on ground already saturated by last winter’s melting snow, said Jeff Graschel, service coordination hydrologist for the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, Louisiana.