National

Memphis braces for river's crest

TIPTONVILLE, Tenn. —As Memphis readied for the mighty Mississippi to bring its furor to town, some Kentucky residents upstream returned to their homes Saturday, optimistic the levees would hold and that they had seen the worst of the flooding.

In the small town of Hickman, Ky., officials and volunteers spent nearly two weeks piling sandbags on top of each other to shore up the 17-mile levee, preparing for a disaster of historic proportion. About 75 residents were told to flee town and waited anxiously for days to see just how bad the flooding would be.

By Saturday, the levee had held, and officials boasted that only a few houses appeared to be damaged. More important, no one was injured or killed.

"We have held back the Mississippi River, and that's a feat," Fulton County's emergency management director Hugh Caldwell said. "We didn't beat it, but it didn't beat us. We'll call it a draw."

Downstream, though, there was danger, in places like Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana.

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton warned residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, and nearby, Shelby Mayor Mark Luttrell said the community was "facing what could be a large-scale disaster."

Record river levels, some dating as far back as the 1920s, were expected to be broken in some parts along the river. In Memphis, the river was expected to crest at 48 feet by Tuesday, just shy of the 48.7-foot record from the devastating flood of 1937.

Elsewhere, officials in Louisiana warned residents that even if a key spillway northwest of Baton Rouge was opened, residents could expect water 5 to 25 feet deep over seven parishes. Some of Louisiana's most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated with water.

A separate spillway northwest of New Orleans was to be opened Monday, helping ease the pressure on levees there, and inmates were set to be evacuated the same day from the state prison in Angola.

To the north in Arkansas, a portion of I-40 remained closed, causing traffic, and the road might not be reopened until Tuesday.

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