National

Just waiting for the river

VICKSBURG, Miss. —For thousands of people forced from their homes by the rising Mississippi River, life has become a tedious waiting game: waiting for meals at shelters, waiting for the latest word on their flooded homes, waiting for the river to fall.

The monotony of shelter life has taken a toll on victims who have already been displaced for weeks and may not be able to return for at least a month. The river is expected to crest today in Vicksburg, but high water might not retreat in some areas until late June.

"Lord only knows when it's going to recede. It's so much water," said Steven Cole, who has stayed for nearly two weeks at a church being used as a Red Cross shelter.

Cole's bottom lip quivered as he described how he ended up here: He wrecked the truck he uses for carpentry work while helping evacuate several families. Then the house he shared with a friend flooded.

Without the shelter in Vicksburg, "I'd be out in the streets," he said.

Nearby, farmers received a bit of good news Wednesday when officials said they did not expect water to spill over the top of a levee protecting thousands of acres of crops. And cargo resumed moving slowly along the Mississippi after the Coast Guard reopened a key segment of the river north of New Orleans.

But those developments did nothing to help people whose homes are already under water. And they have little to fill their days except worry and boredom.

At shelters, evacuees pass the time reading, praying or smoking cigarettes. Vivian Taylor-Wells, a retired nurse and substitute teacher, swaps stories with the other evacuees and thinks a lot about the future. There's not much else to do.

"I pray. I read. I meditate," she said. "I just try to sit calm and get my bearings."

Her car broke down while she was evacuating, so she had to leave behind many belongings at her house, which was swamped with several feet of water.

"I can't say what the losses are going to be, but it's going to be big," she said.

More than 4,800 people have been displaced by flooding in Mississippi, more than 2,000 of them in Vicksburg and surrounding areas. By the time the flooding ends, more than 6,000 people in Mississippi could be forced to leave their homes, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

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