Obama declares Miss. disaster zone

May 11, 2011 at 10:05 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama declared Mississippi a disaster zone, making the state eligible for federal funds to aid recovery efforts in areas affected by flooding.

Federal funds will be available to augment state and local recovery efforts for individuals hit by flooding since May 3, a White House release said. Assistance includes grant money for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the impact of the disaster.

Obama Tuesday declared parts of Tennessee a federal disaster zone as the Mississippi River crested in Memphis.

The river crested at 47.87 feet Tuesday in Memphis after rising every day in the Tennessee city since April 9, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal reported Wednesday.

Downstream in Vidalia, Miss., officials said the river was projected to reach 58.3 feet Wednesday morning and then surpass the February 1937 high of 58.04 during the afternoon, the Natchez (Miss.) Democrat reported. The river is expected to crest at 64 feet May 21.

Construction of temporary floodwalls was completed Tuesday. Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said, all the city can do is watch and wait.

"We have done just about everything we can do now. Now we will monitor it and make sure it holds, Copeland said. "The next step we are going to take, we secure the riverfront with security, we will be monitoring for any kind of leakage, and that is all we can do until [the river] starts descending."

In the Memphis area, floodwaters uprooted trees, reclaimed much of Mud Island, threatened 1,300 homes and businesses in Shelby County, forced hundreds of people to shelters and closed portions of at least four dozen roads, The Commercial Appeal reported.

The Mississippi River wasn't expected to fall below 47 feet until Sunday. National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Okulski said it would be next week before the river is low enough for swollen tributaries to begin draining into it.

"It's still dangerous out there," Okulski said.

A worst-case scenario presented by the U.S. Corps of Engineers indicated the New Orleans area could experience massive flooding if a spillway isn't opened to channel 300,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Mississippi River, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.

When presenting scenario maps to support opening the Morganza Floodway, the Corps of Engineers said if the spillway isn't opened to funnel the water from the river into the Atchafalaya River basin, levees could fail along the Mississippi from Morganza to Plaquemines Parish, including all of the New Orleans area, The Times-Picayune reported after obtaining the documentation.

"Based on various inundation maps, you're looking at roughly 3 million acres that will be impacted, be underwater" when the spillway opens, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said. "That includes about 18,000 acres of cropland just within the Atchafalaya basin."

Serious flooding is expected in parts of northern Louisiana as rivers and streams that usually flow into the Mississippi have begun to back up.

Louisiana Fifth Levee District Commissioner Barry Maxwell said the Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana National Guard, local sheriff's departments and the levee district were patrolling the levees, watching for signs of stress.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a statement Tuesday her staff was working to ensure support was being given to local governments.

"We will not get a second chance to get this right," Landrieu said. "After hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike -- as well as the oil spill -- Louisiana can ill-afford another large-scale disaster. … It is imperative that communities along the river, large and small, have the resources they need to protect their families and homes."

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