NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As the Mississippi River continues to rise, residents along the bank await word on whether the Army Corps of Engineers will open the Morganza spillway to relieve pressure on the levees downstream that protect the more densely populated Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.
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.
As the largest river in North America continues to swell, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to monitor the levee systems along the river,
"We're continuing to watch and wait and monitor the situation," Corps spokesman Jim Pogue said. "Everything is performing as we had hoped."
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."
Click through the following photo slideshow to see the devastation caused by the overflowing Mississippi River.
Flood waters from the Mississippi River encroach on to farm land near Tunica, Miss. on Wednesday.
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.
Up to 5,000 Mississippi residents may be forced to evacuate, authorities said on Wednesday. So far the flooding has affected 3 million acres of farmland in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas alone.
The water level of the Mississippi River surged to 58.48 feet at Natchez, Miss., on Wednesday afternoon, surpassing the record high of 58.04 feet set back in 1937.
The National Weather Service expects the swollen river to crest at Vicksburg, Miss., on May 19 and at 64 feet at Natchez on May 21.
A resident drives slowly on River Road north of Yazoo City, Miss., as the flood waters begin to submerge the street on Thursday.
Farmers throughout the southern region watch helplessly as thousands of acres of corn, wheat, soybean and cotton crops along the Mississippi River are submerged in floodwaters.
The rising Mississippi River is also threatening the catfish farmers in the region, many of which are located in the south Mississippi Delta. The state of Mississippi is currently the leading U.S. producer of farm-raised catfish, followed by Alabama and Arkansas.
As the regions continues to flood, farmers race to construct barriers around their ponds, the
"If these ponds get flooded, the fish will just become part of the flood," said Taylor Webb, a spokesman for Catfish Farmers of America, a nonprofit trade organization. "Once the water subsides, there are going to be a lot what you call junk fish in there. You have to drain the pond, get everything out and start over."
Harry Simmons, the owner of Simmons Farmed Raised Catfish near Yazoo City, estimates that it will cost $150,000 to wrap a protective levee around his home, business and about 400 acres of catfish ponds.
"We'll just have to see what's there when the water goes down," he said.
A flooded residential area in Memphis, Tenn., is seen in this aerial photograph taken on Tuesday, May 10.
The river level in Memphis has dropped slightly since cresting at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling inches short of its all-time high and causing an estimated $320 million in damage.
Nearly 500 Memphis residents were in shelters after hundreds of homes along the river's bank were flooded with polluted water up to their first-floor ceilings,
The Associated Press
said, while others were completely submerged.
By the end of the week, all 19 casinos along the river will be shut down, putting up to 13,000 employees temporarily out of work.
The damage in Memphis was estimated at more than $320 million, the
said, and an official total cost won't be tallied until the waters recede.
A bus is swept away by floodwaters in Satartia, Miss. on Monday, May 9.
The Mississippi River climbed to 47.85 feet in Memphis early Tuesday and is expected to crest Thursday in Tunica, Miss. at 59 feet, the Jackson, Miss.-based
As the tall waters stretch south, many main roads have been shut down throughout the Delta region.
Hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed by the rising water, and more damage is on the way,
"The impact is worsening as the flood crest moves downstream," said Marty Pope, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Jackson. "We're above the 2008 level. So water will be going into areas from Greenville southward real soon that have never been reached before in modern times."
Residents watch as water rushes through the opened bays on the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco, La., on Monday, May 9.
The Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in response to the great flood of 1927. Hundreds of people gathered on the riverbank to watch as workers used cranes to remove the spillway's wooden barriers to allow the water to flow through.
The spillway is located about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans. Its main purpose is to divert water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.
Monday marked the 10th time the spillway has been opened since the structure was completed in 1931. It was last opened during the spring of 2008.
Floodwater surrounds a building on Monday, May 9, in Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton assured citizens that disaster teams will do "everything possible to keep everyone safe" as the water is expected to slowly recede over the next few weeks.
The floods have forced hundreds of people from their homes, as authorities urged residents to evacuate the region. In Shelby County, about 500 people were staying in shelters, and several hundred others were staying with friends and family,
While no new serious flooding is expected, officials still warned residents of the possible damaging effects of the high river.
"The river is in the cresting phase," said Steve Shular, spokesman for the Shelby County Office of Preparedness. "But we're still going to have problems for the next several days because the water is so high and it will keep the creeks and tributaries high as well."
"They don't call it the Mighty Mississippi for nothing," Shular said.
Trash floats by flooded homes on Monday, May 9, in Memphis, Tenn.
Experts warned residents of the possibility that the floodwaters of the Lower Mississippi River could cause the levee system to fail.
"I wouldn't say that this is going to be a disaster, but the modern Mississippi levee system has never been tested under flood conditions like this," said Sam Bentley, the Harrison Chair in Sedimentary Geology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge,
reported. "It's probably going to exceed water levels not seen since the Great Flood of 1927: historically the largest ever measured."
Flood waters continued to rise Tuesday as residents and farmers along the river raced to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from the expected historic flooding.
While the levee system remains intact, low-lying areas will still be flooded with enough water to require a massive cleanup.
National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Borghoff said the river reached 47.85 feet in Memphis early Tuesday, just shy of the record of 48.7 feet recorded during a devastating 1937 flood in Memphis, which led to more than 500 deaths and the flooding of roughly 20 million acres.
Zebedee Anderson fishes while standing on a flooded section of the Bill Ramsey Memorial Highway on Tuesday, May 10, near Vicksburg, Miss.
The Mississippi River was at about 53 feet in Vicksburg, Miss., on Tuesday, and is expected to crest there at 57.5 feet by Thursday.
The river level was above 57 feet on Tuesday in Natchez, a town located about 70 miles downriver from Vicksburg. The water level in Natchez aren't expected to stop rising until the river crests at 64 feet, the National Weather Service said.
Few injuries have been reported from the massive Mississippi River flooding, but thousands of residents along the banks have been evacuated. It's possible that thousands of homes, businesses and farms will be destroyed by the near-record river levels.
The National Weather Service warns residents of historic flooding along the Mississippi River.
for a few counties along the river.
The Mississippi River flood crest reached Memphis early Tuesday morning, where it came within inches of record flood stage. The crest is expected to proceed downstream through the Lower Mississippi Basin towards New Orleans during the next two weeks, with major to record flooding expected along the way.
A flood warning has been issued for streams in Decatur and Hardin counties in Tennessee and will remain in effect until Thursday afternoon.
The service said the stream rises will be slow and flash flooding isn't expected. However, it warned all nearby residents to take necessary precautions, especially while driving.
"Do not drive your vehicle into areas where the water covers the roadway," the NWS said in a statement. "The water depth may be too great to allow your car to cross."
--Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.
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