ByÂ Mark Guarino, Christian Science Monitor
Rising floodwatersÂ in and around Memphis, Tenn., Thursday have led to evacuations, highway and school closings, and at least one death.
But the highest waters are still days away. The cityâ€™s highest water level in 74 years is expected to crest next week, starting Wednesday.
The Mississippi River is currently at 45.2 feet, according to the National Weather Service, causing flooding primarily on Mud Island, which is connected to downtown Memphis through a bridge and causeway. About 5,000 residents are at risk.
A month of heavy rain and melting winter snow have combined to create a surge of dangerously high water levels moving downstream through the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Among the communities affected are not only those along the two rivers, but also areas along and near their many tributaries in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky. Evacuations are already taking place in Dyersburg, Tenn., because of projected floodwaters coming from the north end of the Forked Deer River, which intersects with the Mississippi.
Flooding caused Arkansas highway authorities on Wednesday to shut the westbound lanes on parts of Interstate 40. One man drowned in Prairie County, Ark., located about 100 miles west of Memphis. Water also blocked parts of Interstate 55 in Shelby County, which includes Memphis.
With water levels still rising by about a foot per day, the greatest impact is yet to come. Water is expected to crest at 48 feet in Memphis on Wednesday, the second highest river level since 1937, when flooding crested at 48.7 feet in the city. The National Weather Service is projecting a slow decrease, with water expected to remain in place for at least two weeks.
â€œItâ€™s not going to go back down. It takes time, especially with a river as big as the Mississippi,â€ says Marlene Nickelson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis.
Ms. Nickelson said recent record rainfall is accelerating the flooding. On Saturday, more than 3 inches of rain fell at Memphis International Airport, which shattered the record of 2.1 inches in 1876. Any communities near the Wolf and Loosahatchie rivers are under threat because of backwater coming from the Mississippi, according to the Shelby County Emergency Management Office, The agency says 2,832 properties, including 706 single-family homes, are under threat.
On Wednesday, President Obama declared parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi disaster zones.
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