Memphis readied for the Mississippi River to bring its furor to town, and some Kentucky residents upstream returned to their homes on Saturday, optimistic the levees would hold and that they had seen the worst of the flooding.
In the small town of Hickman, Kentucky, officials and volunteers spent nearly two weeks piling sandbags on top of each other to shore up the 27km levee, preparing for a disaster of historic proportion. About 75 residents were told to flee town and waited anxiously for days to see just how bad the flooding would be.
By Saturday, the levee had held, and officials boasted that only a few houses appeared to be damaged. No one was killed or injured.
“We have held back the Mississippi River and that’s a feat,” Fulton County’s emergency management director Hugh Caldwell said. “We didn’t beat it, but it didn’t beat us. We’ll call it a draw.”
Downstream, though, there was danger, in places like Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana. In Arkansas, authorities recovered the body of a man who drove around barricades earlier in the week and was swept away by floodwaters when he tried to walk out.
Memphis Mayor AC Wharton warned residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, and nearby, Shelby Mayor Mark Luttrell said the community was “facing what could be a large-scale disaster.”
Record river levels, some dating as far back as the 1920s, were expected to be broken in some areas along the river. In Memphis, the river was expected to crest at 14.6m by today, just shy of the 14.8m record from the devastating flood of 1937.
About 160km to the north, residents in Tiptonville, Tennessee were hopeful as the river levels started to fall.
About 48km of county roads were cut off and impassable, and fields of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton have been submerged.
Elsewhere, officials in Louisiana warned residents that even if a key spillway northwest of Baton Rouge was opened, residents could expect water 1.5m to 7.6m deep over seven parishes. Some of Louisiana’s most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated.