NEW YORK (
) -- As the Mississippi River continues to rise, residents along its banks await word on whether the Army Corps of Engineers will open the Morganza spillway in Louisiana to relieve pressure on the levees downstream that protect the more densely populated Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.
Opening the massive floodway for the first time in 38 years would inundate hundreds of thousands of rural acres and flood thousands of homes, as the waters of the Mississippi would rush south to the Gulf of Mexico through the Atchafalaya River.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has warned the 25,000 residents in the spillway's path that they will probably have to leave their homes by this weekend, as the Corps mulls its final decision.
If the spillway isn't opened, New Orleans could face floods and levee breaks that could potentially cause greater damage than Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans news outlet
The accumulation of heavy rain over the past few weeks and snowmelt along the upper Mississippi have caused record breaking upstream flooding and inundated low-lying towns and farmland throughout Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
High river waters have caused the rivers and creeks that feed into the Mississippi to overflow, forcing many to seek higher ground.
While Louisiana monitors the river's volume, Mississippi continues to watch the water creep across the historic Delta region.
"There's no reason for anybody to lose their life in this," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday at a press conference in Greenville. "We've had days and days of warning and the crest isn't even here yet."
The Mississippi River already crested in Memphis at 47.87 feet on Tuesday, just below the 1937 record of 48.7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
The bulge of water, caused by the convergence of the swollen Mississippi and Ohio rivers at Cairo, Illinois, is slowly moving downstream and is expected to reach the Gulf of Mexico in about two weeks.
The swollen river is expected to crest at Vicksburg, Miss., on May 19 and at 64 feet at Natchez on May 21.
--Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.
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