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VOL. 126 | NO. 93 | Thursday, May 12, 2011

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Mid-South Flooding

Special Coverage: Mid-South Flooding

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Coverage of the rising waters in the Memphis area

Scientists to Determine Exact River Crest Height

The Mississippi River at Memphis crested Tuesday. But at what level?

The river level that goes into the history books will take a few days to determine, according to Memphis National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Okulski.

“I can’t tell you an official estimate for about a week,” Okulski told reporters Tuesday evening. “We have to let the water go down and we have to send somebody out to take an official survey to get it right for the historical record.”

The process has been complicated because the primary “Memphis gauge” used by the NWS has been on the blink as the river approached its crest. Sometimes it has worked and sometimes it hasn’t.

Beyond that are the normal factors that could skew river level readings – barges going by and their wakes. “We have logs and debris hitting the gauge,” he said. “When you start talking about tenths of inches or hundredths of inches, it becomes rather small.”

The unofficial crest measurement was 47.87 inches Tuesday morning. But the reading went down after that and then back up.

Whatever the official entry is, it will go just below the all-time record of 48.7 feet set on Feb. 10, 1937, and above the April 23, 1927, entry of 45.8 feet.

The 1927 entry was measured on what is now referred to as the Beale Street gauge. Its readings are skewed and are corrected by subtracting 1.3 feet. It’s also the gauge many people gathering at the riverfront have seen in recent days as they snap pictures of the flood waters at Beale Street and Riverside Drive. The gauge is on one of the pillars of the rail bridge over Beale Street.

The 1937 entry was on the Memphis gauge, which is still used as the official measurement of the river at Memphis.

Okulski said the switch to a 48-foot crest last week was a good call.

“That’s about as good as you’re going get in terms of a spot-on forecast for a river, particularly since we had to account for the Bird’s Point activation,” he said, referring to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to blow part of the levees at Bird’s Point in Missouri which slowed the timing of some of the water down the river and past Memphis.

– Bill Dries

Valero Uses Gulf Procedures To Prepare Memphis Refinery

While Valero Energy Corp.’s Memphis refinery is still operating, barge access to and from the facility is limited, which could potentially cause an uptick in fuel prices.

Products are also delivered by pipeline, rail and truck. So far, none of those mediums have been affected, said Bill Day, executive director of media relations at Valero Energy Corp.

“(Fuel costs) will depend on things like barge traffic and how much production can get to terminals,” Day said. “I’ve heard that some terminals are not operating or are low on supply because they can’t get deliveries. Even though the refineries may be operating just fine, if they don’t have a place to take their product, then that’s going to cause supply disruptions, which can obviously have an effect on prices. But it’s probably a little early to say at this point.”

Valero also has a refinery just west of New Orleans on the Mississippi River behind the levees. The firm doesn’t expect any disruptions to operations there but is watching the situation closely, Day said.

“We have refineries on the Gulf Coast that we prepare every year during hurricane season and we actually used some of those procedures and preparations with Memphis when it became clear that there were going to be storms and some possible flooding,” Day said. “That has helped us keep the refinery up and operating, even though there is flooding around the area.”

- Sarah Baker

Verizon Contributes to Flood Victims

Verizon Wireless has enhanced its coverage capacity in Memphis and surrounding areas so the company can handle the increase in wireless call volume and activity because of the recent historic flooding.

Verizon has enhanced wireless capacity at cell sites throughout the Memphis area to manage increased call volume and data usage. A Cell on Light Truck (COLT), able to handle thousands of calls in one hour, also has been deployed to Tiptonville, Tenn., to enhance wireless coverage in Tiptonville and the surrounding area.

Meanwhile, Verizon has a Disaster Relief recreation vehicle in Memphis that operates from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s been parked at the Raleigh Springs Mall, 3384 Austin Peay Highway.

The RV provides activated phones; Internet access through laptops, tablets and MiFi hot spots; and on-site device-charging stations.

Verizon Wireless also deployed a Disaster Relief RV to assist tornado victims in Smithville, Miss.

Verizon is encouraging mobile donations to help flood victims. Wireless phone users may donate $10 to organizations with teams in the Mid-South by texting designated words to the following numbers:

  • American Red Cross Relief: Text “REDCROSS” to 90999
  • Convoy of Hope: Text “CONVOY” to 50555
  • Mississippi Disaster Recovery Fund: Text “MS” to 27722
  • Salvation Army: Text “GIVE” to 80888
  • Samaritan’s Feet: Text “SHOES” to 85944
  • Save the Children: Text “4TORNADO” or “TWISTER” to 20222
  • Tushka Disaster Relief Fund: Text “OKGIVE” to 27722
  • United Way of Russell and Washington Counties: Text “SUPPORT” to 27722
  • United Way of Central Alabama: Text “TORNADO” to 50555
  • World Vision: Text “TORNADO” to 20222

For Verizon Wireless customers who pay monthly bills, the donation will appear on the next regular monthly bill; for customers using prepaid services, the $10 donation will be deducted from the prepaid balance.

- Andy Meek

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