NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling inches short of its all-time high and leaving nearby residents to hope that the levee system will stay intact.

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,

The Associated Press


Mississippi River Rising: Photo Gallery

High river waters have caused the rivers and creeks that feed into the Mississippi to overflow, and experts have warned that there is a 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.

The water levels are expected to remain close to that level for the next 24 to 36 hours, Borghoff said.

Officials said it will be weeks before the waters recede.

"They're going to recede slowly, it's going to be rather putrid, it's going to be expensive to clean up, it's going to be labor-intensive," said Bob Nations Jr., director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency.

Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton assured citizens that disaster teams will do "everything possible to keep everyone safe."

The floods have forced hundreds of people from their homes, as authorities urged residents to evacuate the region. While no new serious flooding is expected, officials still warned residents of the possible damaging effects of the high river.

"This is the time to gather all important items and be ready to leave your property," Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told residents. "There is a very real possibility

that portions of Shelby County could be affected by the rising waters."

The NWS issued a statement warning all residents along the river to "go immediately to higher ground if waters start to rise" to be safe.

--Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.

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