A Great Flood

The Mississippi River soaks neighborhoods in and around Memphis, Tennessee

May 10, 2011

Residents in and around Memphis, Tennessee, spent the weekend preparing for a destructive flood. The swollen Mississippi River was expected to crest, or reach its highpoint for that area, early this week.

At 2 a.m. on Tuesday, the river crested at 47.85 feet. That is below the 48.7-foot record set by a devastating 1937 flood. But low-lying neighborhoods were soaked, and hundreds of people were forced from their homes.

The Worst Is Over

Now that the river has hit its highpoint, it is expected to stay at about the same level for up to 36 hours. Then it should begin to recede. "Pretty much the damage has been done," said National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Borghoff.

The city's famous musical landmarks including Elvis Presley's mansion, Graceland, were protected by levees—man-made barriers built to keep a river from overflowing. "The levees are performing as designed I'm happy to report," Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Vernie Reichling Jr. told The Early Show on CBS.

A Massive Cleanup

Now authorities are turning their attention to the massive cleanup ahead. President Barack Obama declared five counties disaster areas, which means they are eligible to receive aid from the federal government.

Local officials say such help is much needed. "[The water is] going to recede slowly," says Bob Nations Jr., director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency. "It's going to be expensive to clean up. It's going to be labor-intensive."

The Mighty Mississippi

The Mississippi is one of the largest rivers in the world. Originating at Lake Itasca in Minnesota, it flows south through the center of the continental United States and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Due to heavy rains and snowmelt, the river has reached record levels in some areas this year. Now that the worst is over for Memphis, cities located farther south along the river are bracing themselves for more flooding. "I think we'll breathe a sigh of relief once this crest has passed and is in the Gulf of Mexico," said Reichling.


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