National

Rising waters threaten towns along Mississippi

MEMPHIS, Tenn. —Mud Island, which juts into the mighty Mississippi, pays homage to the Big Muddy with an elaborate scale model of the river, a museum about its history, and a paddlewheel steamboat that looks like something straight out of "Huckleberry Finn."

But now Mud Island is getting too much of the Mississippi.

Rising waters practically lapped at the back porches of some of the island's expensive houses Thursday, and homeowners weighed whether to stay or go.

Up and down Ol' Man River, from Illinois to Louisiana, thousands faced the same decision as high water kept on rolling down the Mississippi and its tributaries, threatening to swamp communities over the next week or two. The flooding is already breaking high-water records that have stood since the 1930s.

"I'm going to sleep thinking, 'I hope they don't evacuate the island and we wake up and we're the only ones here,' " said Emily Tabor, a first-year student at the University of Tennessee's College of Pharmacy in Memphis who lives on Mud Island.

Mud Island, a three-mile-long strip of land that is part of Memphis, has about 1,500 homes and businesses and 6,000 mostly well-off residents, many of them living in gleaming, 20-year-old houses with wide river views and traditional Southern touches such as columns, porches and bay windows.

Tourists can take a tram or drive across a small bridge to visit Mud Island's park, amphitheater and a museum devoted to life on the Mississippi. Among the exhibits: the Theater of Disasters Gallery, which recounts steamboat accidents and other tragedies on the river.

Emergency officials warned that residents may need to leave their homes as the river rises toward an expected crest next Wednesday of 48 feet — about 3 feet higher than on Thursday. The record in Memphis, 48.7 feet, was set in 1937.

On Thursday, the Mississippi spilled over a park and onto Riverside Drive in downtown Memphis. Water pooled at the lowest end of Beale Street, the most famous thoroughfare in the history of the blues, but it was about a half-mile from the street's popular restaurants, shops and bars and did not threaten any homes or businesses.

Farther south, the Mississippi Delta was starting to flood, too. In Greenville, Miss., the yacht club was submerged and two floating casinos were closing down. In Rolling Fork, the birthplace of bluesman Muddy Waters, Highway 61 was expected to become impassable.

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