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VOL. 126 | NO. 90 | Monday, May 09, 2011

Flood Scenario Become More Specific As River Crest Nears

By Bill Dries

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The rise of the Mississippi River at Memphis continued Sunday to within a few inches of a crest of 48 feet.

And emergency responders Sunday locked in on dealing with a 48 foot crest sometime early Tuesday morning.

No rainfall is likely through Thursday and high temperatures will also help to keep their flood models consistent at what is literally about to be the high water mark of the crisis in Memphis.

They believe the river will begin to slowly and imperceptibly begin to drop several inches each day following Tuesday’s crest with no second crest expected for now.

The Greenbelt Park on Mud Island’s western or Mississippi River side was formally closed Sunday afternoon by the city. All that is above water in the park is a paved walkway on the west side of Island Road, the island’s main thoroughfare.

The city took the action as another step to discourage sightseers coming to the island. Memphis police have already warned that they want traffic limited to emergency vehicles and those residents of the island who have not evacuated. They have also warned that they will write traffic citations for through traffic or those who drive around traffic barricades.

This weekend saw large crowds of Memphis along the city’s riverfront to see for themselves the near record rise in the river. The record river gauge reading at Memphis is 48.7 feet in the 1937 floods.

One particular sight of interest from the walkways on the bluff above Riverside Drive is the Tom Lee sculpture in the park named in honor of the Memphian who with a small boat rescued 32 people from the river when their excursion boat capsized south of Memphis in 1925.

86 years to the day of his historic rescue effort, the sculpture showing Lee in a boat reaching out to a floating figure was one of the few landmarks from the water’s edge left to indicate it is normally the river’s edge of the park. The boat and the figure of a man floating away are just about at the river’s new level.

A couple of feet of the stands beneath Lee’s boat and the figure he is saving are all that is above water.

Memphis police and Shelby County sheriff’s deputies went to 243 addresses Sunday afternoon in zip codes considered prone to flooding to hand “alerts” to those homeowners and residents.

The alerts do not urge them to evacuate immediately. Shelby County preparedness director Bob Nations said the written notices are an alert for them to stay informed. “You might be impacted and we will know in 24 hours,” Nations said in summarizing the message of the new fliers. “It’s on the high side of caution.”

The new properties were included because of their position along tributaries to the Mississippi River whose waters cannot flow into the Mississippi because of its high level already.

Shelby County public works crews were out Sunday trying to reopen the heavily flooded intersection of Highway 51 and North Watkins in Frayser. But the effort didn’t have big enough barricades needed to at least reopen some if not all lanes of traffic.

The flooding is the largest obstacle in the county so far on a major traffic artery.

Highway 51 is the artery that connects Memphis to Millington and north Shelby County. For the Monday morning rush hour, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office will have detour signs up and deputies directing traffic to have southbound traffic into Memphis take go east bound on Highway 385 and then detour at Singleton Parkway toward Memphis.

Meanwhile, a six inch water main in Northaven was quickly repaired by Memphis Light Gas and Water Division crews and the road damaged by the force of the water leak was patched.

Sheriff’s deputies made their first flood related burglary arrest. The suspect, charged with aggravated burglary, was arrested by deputies Sunday in Northaven when they saw him climbing out the back window of an evacuated house on Cedar Bluff. An alarm in the house triggered a call to the sheriff’s department which already had deputies patrolling the evacuated area.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich has pledged to “vigorously prosecute” anyone arrested on such charges.

Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Midtown Memphis was being readied Sunday afternoon as the fourth flood shelter. The populations at the other three shelters, Hope Presbyterian Church, Cummings Street Baptist Church and the Millington Civic Center remained the same on Sunday

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