Record-breaking flooding that swamped central Mississippi and southern Tennessee over the past few days should begin to recede soon, forecasters say, but more rain continues to threaten areas still under flash flood watches and warnings.
The swollen Pearl River crested Monday in Mississippi’s capital, but authorities warned the hundreds of evacuees in Mississippi's capital city of Jackson not to rush back home until they got the all clear, and a forecast of more rain put counties further south at risk of flooding.
More rain coming
Forecasters predict more rain across the Southeast this week. It shouldn't be as heavy as previous weeks, but with lakes and reservoirs nearing capacity, it won't take a deluge to require authorities to release more water.
This would prolong the misery in neighborhoods surrounded by water.
Some of the hardest-hit areas in Mississippi were under a flash flood watch on Tuesday.
The National Weather Service said rainfall amounts of up to 2 inches — with higher amounts possible in some spots — were expected to fall in a short amount of time in central Mississippi on Tuesday.
Forecasters say that could cause flash flooding and worsen ongoing river flooding in the region.
The national Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, is projecting the greatest likelihood of heavy rains in a band from eastern Louisiana across central parts of Mississippi and Alabama and into far west Georgia.
No injuries reported
No injuries have been reported from the flooding.
As the high water recedes in Mississippi, officials expect to find damaged roads and problems with water and sewage pipes.
Dramatic video posted by a Tennessee fire department showed the impact near Savannah, Tennessee, where two houses tumbled down a bluff into the Tennessee River, although its residents had fled earlier.
Other homes have been swamped to their rooftops, as entire neighborhoods disappear in muddy water below the Tennessee Valley Authority's Pickwick Reservoir.
Dozens of other homes in more low-lying areas were swamped, the department's drone video showed.
“It absolutely kills you, knowing that” houses are getting destroyed downstream from the dam, the TVA's Hopson told The Associated Press on Monday. “We have engineers on duty 24-7 trying to figure out what's the most effective way to move this water downstream with the least impact. They feel it. I feel it.”
"Please do not move back into your neighborhood or into your home until authorities and officials give you the OK to do so," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said at a news conference.
A near-record rainy winter has forced authorities to release water from swollen reservoirs, potentially worsening the flooding for those living downstream.
“It is a chess match we're playing with Mother Nature," said Jim Hopson, spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Status of the Pearl River
The Pearl River appeared to crest at just under 37 feet, Reeves said. It is forecast to fall below major flood stage at 36 feet around midnight Tuesday, although more problems could arise if rains in the next few days are heavier than forecast.
"We as a state are not in the clear yet," Reeves said.
The Pearl's highest recorded crest was 43.2 feet on April 17, 1979. The second-highest level occurred May 5, 1983, when the river rose to 39.58 feet.
Evacuations and rescues
Reeves thanked residents for heeding evacuation orders. Only 16 search-and-rescue missions were needed, he said, even though as many as 1,000 homes were flooded.
One of those homes belongs to Chris Sharp, who had enough time to find an 18-wheeler, load it with his possessions and drive away Friday from the house his parents bought in the 1970s. The house was inundated in those previous two flood years.
On Monday, he tried to go back with a boat, but a police officer turned him away.
“All you can do is just sit back and watch," Sharp said by phone from his brother's nearby house.
He expects several inches of water in his home, and this flood finally has Sharp considering whether his family should move. The home isn’t covered by flood insurance because he said the cost has grown too expensive in recent years.
"I've been through it before, so I kind of knew what to do," Sharp said, giving a resigned laugh. “But there's a bunch of people who didn't do anything.”
Elsewhere in Jackson, residents paddled canoes, kayaks and small fishing boats to check on their houses, giving lifts to other neighbors. Some were able to enter their homes, while others peeked into the windows to check on damage inside. Floodwaters lapped at mailboxes, street signs and cars that had been left in driveways.
The momentary break in the rain enabled water levels at the Barnett Reservoir upriver of the capital to stabilize, but officials repeated their warnings to pay attention to evacuation orders, check on road closures before traveling and stay off any flooded roads.
Mississippi emergency management officials said Sunday that they had received preliminary damage reports from 11 counties connected with the severe weather that began on Feb. 10.
River gauges in four states from South Carolina west to Mississippi are reporting moderate flooding, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
— Compiled by ArLuther Lee for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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