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VOL. 126 | NO. 86 | Tuesday, May 3, 2011

River Rising

Mississippi, Wolf River Harbor lap at city’s doorstep

By Bill Dries

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The workweek began at many Memphis companies with a review of flood contingency plans.

Crews work to shore up the floodgate of the U.S. Coast Guard Station across from Mud Island after all vehicles were evacuated from the property Monday because of potential flooding.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The week ahead promises to be a challenging one.

By Monday evening, the National Weather Service had changed its forecast to keep the May 10 crest date for the Mississippi River at Memphis. But they upped the river level from 45 feet to 48 feet.

Even before the week began, the Memphis Port Commission released a statement emphasizing that the raised portion of the Presidents Island industrial site shouldn’t flood.

“The river stage in Memphis would have to reach 56+ feet before the top elevation would be reached,” read the statement from Port Commission executive director Randy Richardson. “FEMA flood maps show the flat raised portion of Presidents Island as being non-floodable. The entrance causeway is at the same level,” he added, referring to the Jack Carley causeway entrance to Harbor and Channel drives, the two main roads on Presidents Island.

But barges have been unable to load and unload at some of the docks on the McKellar Lake harbor because they weren’t built to accommodate the river at its current or projected level.

Bill Day, executive director of communications for Valero Energy Corps., said the high water will have “no impact on production” at the Memphis refinery, which is farther south on the city’s riverfront but well above the river.

“We expect no interruption in production,” Day said.

Organizers of the Memphis In May International Festival Inc. began the week facing a decision about whether to go forward with the barbecue cooking contest that opens to the public May 12 at Tom Lee Park. Construction on the 250 booths is scheduled to begin soon.

The options as outlined by organizers last week include postponing the barbecue contest, moving it to an alternate location, or closing off the south end of the park, which is the lowest point of the park and the part that would flood if the river reaches the park itself.

Memphis in May president and CEO Jim Holt has emailed participants asking for their preferences on what to do.

The decision to move the contest to Tiger Lane at The Fairgrounds was sealed with the new river crest forecast early Monday evening.

Monday morning began with steady rain and the Mississippi River at 42.1 feet on the river gauge at Memphis.

The most visible effect of the rising river was at Mud Island’s Greenbelt Park where the muddy water has now closed and covered both parking lots – north and south – and the water is a few yards away from the park walkway that is closest to the main north-south street running the length of the island’s residential north end.

A towboat pushing a load of barges stayed within the main northbound river channel of the swollen river. But its position on the much higher river made it seem much larger and closer than the river’s commercial traffic appears to be even during normal spring flooding.

Mid-morning traffic on Island Drive was heavy as Memphians came to see the river for themselves. There was no flooding on either side of the A.W. Willis Bridge Monday afternoon, although the Center City Commission through its Twitter account, @downtownmemphis, tweeted “People of Mud Island ... Foot of AW Willis is expected to flood. Please make precautions!”

Over the weekend, the first two emergency shelters opened and the first, at Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, was at capacity with 200 citizens who had voluntarily evacuated their homes. Most were from two trailer and mobile home parks in the Frayser and North Shelby County areas that have been beset by frequent flooding in the past.

A second shelter at Cummings Street Baptist Church on East Raines Road had another 40 people in a shelter there as Monday began.

Memphians are able to keep up with flood updates on Twitter by following the hashtag #memfloods.

Also, look for Web updates to this story at The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159