Miss. River crests at Greenville, focus downriver

JACKSON — The Mississippi River crested at Greenville on Tuesday lower than first expected as officials turned their attention downriver where water is inching closer to the top of a backwater levee and barge traffic was idled due to the high water.

The National Weather Service said the river was cresting at Greenville at 64.2 feet, below the record set in 1927 at 65.4 feet. The river is not expected to crest until Thursday at Vicksburg, where officials were relieved that a backwater levee is not likely to be overtopped by as much water as first feared, if it’s overtopped at all.

Farther south in Natchez, where the river is already 3 feet higher than a record set in 1937, the Mississippi River was closed to barge traffic over concerns that barges couldn’t operate safely in the flooded river and that wakes from the massive vessels could hurt levees. The river is not expected to crest at Natchez until Saturday.

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said he met Monday with Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh and other officials when they discussed the river closing.

“You have two hospitals, a convention center, a hotel and a spa on the Louisiana side. On our side, we have a restaurant and bar and several very old, historic buildings that we are trying to save,” Middleton said

Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough said two vessels were left waiting to head north and one waiting to go south when the river was closed Monday. The U.S. economy could face a bill running into the hundreds of millions of dollars a day if the lower Mississippi River is closed to shipping for days or weeks, port officials said. It wasn’t clear when the river would reopen to traffic.

Mississippi has already taken an economic blow. Flooding has swamped farms, casinos and other businesses and forced at least 4,200 people from their homes.

Some of the worst flooding is in the area from Vicksburg northeast to Yazoo City, along the Yazoo River. The Yazoo Backwater Levee north of Vicksburg connects with the main Mississippi River levee. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials had predicted that at least a foot of water could pour over the top of the levee, flooding tens of thousands of acres of farmland in the lower Mississippi Delta.

The corps brought in new gauges and did another analysis and now believes the levee will only be overtopped by inches, if at all, said agency spokesman Wayne Stroupe

“It’s going to be very close,” he said.

Stroupe said that if the levee overtops, it likely will be when the gauges at Vicksburg reach 57.2 or 57.3 feet. The Mississippi River is projected to crest Thursday at Vicksburg at 57.5 feet, more than a foot above the 1927 record there.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there are more than 4,200 people displaced in Mississippi due to flooding, about half of them in Vicksburg.

Vicksburg Deputy Police Chief John Dolan said a levee that had been built around an old refinery collapsed Monday, letting water onto the property and sending gas fumes into the air. Environmental experts tested the air and found no immediate danger, Dolan said.

Warren County Sherriff Martin Pace said deputies continue to use boats to patrol neighborhoods.

“It’s been good so far. We’ve had no major problems,” Pace said. “So far, so good. We just need this water to get out of here.”

It could take weeks for the water to recede to normal levels.

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Associated Press writers Alan Sayre in New Orleans and Shelia Byrd in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.

Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres