Memphis Area Will Be Soggy For Some Time

The Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn., is just a few inches below the record set in 1937. The surge of water continues to move southward and threatens to inundate parts of Mississippi and Louisiana.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's go next to Memphis, Tennessee, where the Mississippi River is at its highest level since the 1930s. More than 1,000 homes in low-lying areas are flooded, and the battle is not over. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: Eric Williams is standing behind his mother's house in the Frazier neighborhood of Memphis, looking out as floodwaters as far as he can see.

Mr. ERIC WILLIAMS: It's crazy. I mean, I've never seen it like that before. Literally it goes back for probably a few miles back there. It's flooded -seriously, it's bad.

SCHAPER: And the water is how close to her door?

Mr. WILLIAMS: About another two or three foot, it'll be flooding the house.

SCHAPER: The ranch-style house sits atop a slope, which is keeping it dry despite the vast amounts of water all around it from the overflowing Loosahatchie River. That tributary is getting a huge backflow from the Mississippi and its waters have nowhere else to go but towards homes like this one.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, if it starts getting up much higher, I think they're going to have to take the option of evacuating.

Mr. BOB NATIONS (Shelby County Office of Preparedness): It's not close to over.

SCHAPER: Bob Nations is director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness.

Mr. NATIONS: This is a nasty event. These are floodwaters. They're going to recede slowly. It's going to be rather putrid. It's going to be expensive to clean up. It's going to be labor intensive.

SCHAPER: Forecasters say the Mississippi will likely remain at or near its crested level for several days, which means the backed up tributaries, which are causing most of the flooding damage here, also won't recede any time soon.

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton puts it this way...

Mayor A.C. WHARTON (Memphis, Tennessee): It's not as if someone just reached in your bathtub and pulled a plug out and glug-glug-glug-glug(ph). That's not going to happen. It's going to stay here for a while.

SCHAPER: Officials say that as the Mississippi neared its crest, more residents evacuated and more shelters are opening up for those displaced by the floods. Many may not be able to return home and will need longer-term housing.

But Mayor Wharton points out that while the floods are devastating for some in Memphis, downtown in most of the rest of the city is high and dry.

Mr. WHARTON: Contrary to what is being perceived at the national and international level, we are not closed. Memphis is open.

SCHAPER: The city's famed music district on Beale Street is not affected by the flooding, nor is Graceland. And a big barbeque fest will go on as planned this coming weekend, though at a different location.

David Schaper, NPR News, Memphis.

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