VICKSBURG, Miss. —The Mississippi River crested at more than 14 feet above flood stage in Vicksburg on Thursday, a slightly lower-than-expected level that eased worries about water potentially spilling over a nearby levee and inundating thousands more acres of farmland.
But officials warned that the flood was by no means over. The river was expected to stay at its crest for several days before beginning a long, slow retreat. It could remain above flood stage until mid-June.
"The crest is by no means the end of it," said Col. Jeffrey Eckstein, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Vicksburg District.
Authorities had been worried for days that water might spill over the Yazoo Backwater Levee north of Vicksburg. But because the water was not expected to rise any higher, they did not expect to evacuate any more people. Some 2,000 city residents have already been forced from their homes.
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Also Thursday, authorities reported the first person to die in Mississippi floodwaters since the mighty river began climbing out its banks last month in the Midwest — a 69-year-old man who apparently collapsed in the high water.
Walter Cook was pulled from the water Tuesday by two firefighters on boat patrol in downtown Vicksburg.
At least eight deaths in Arkansas have been attributed to flooding, but all of those happened in flash floods on Mississippi tributaries.
In Port Gibson, a community that Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant reportedly said was "too beautiful to burn," few people could have been happier than Eddie Simmons to hear about the crest in Vicksburg.
Simmons, a retired logger, is recovering from hip-replacement surgery and can barely leave his bed. He has stayed in his home despite water swamping his front yard and creeping beneath his house.
Simmons was confident his house would survive now that the river had done its worst.
"It's God's work. You've got to deal with him. You can run to high ground, but if God wants to come there, he can come there. You might as well stay put."