MEMPHIS — Rivers are rising and the rain keeps falling in Memphis, where suburban streets are blocked, mobile home parks are inundated and 175 people have filled a church gymnasium ahead of what could be record flooding along the Mississippi River.
The scenario is an eerie reminder of the situation one year ago this week, when 20 people died as record rainfalls caused flooding in Tennessee from the Memphis area to Nashville.
Tributaries in West Tennessee were backed up and flooding Monday due to heavy rains and the bulging Mississippi River, whose waters lapped up on riverside parks near downtown Memphis. Fears of dangerous flooding have led Shelby County officials to call a civil emergency for its 920,000 residents.
The Mississippi had been expected to crest at an unusually high 45 feet on May 10. But the river is now expected to crest at 48 feet on May 10, just inches lower than the record of 48.7 feet set in 1937, National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Okulski said Monday during a briefing at the Shelby County emergency operations center.
Part of the reason for the increase is that 2 to 7 inches have fallen since midnight Saturday, and another 2 to 4 inches are expected to fall by Tuesday night, Okulski said.
After the crest, the Mississippi is expected to stay near 48 feet for four to seven days.
“That’s not good news,” Okulski said.
Shelby County emergency management officials were working Monday to determine what the effect of the 3-foot jump would mean to residents. They are urging residents to be packed and ready to go in case they are asked to leave.
Okulski said the possible intentional breach of the Birds Point levee in Missouri will not significantly ease the danger of Mississippi River flooding in the Memphis area.
The persistent rain also has added to the levels of tributaries such as the Loosahatchie River, which was just 1 foot below its banks and rising in one part of eastern Shelby County. County officials have warned of water coming up though storm drains.
The county already has several roads that are flooded, and authorities already have evacuated two mobile home parks. Some its residents ended up at Hope Presbyterian church, which had 175 people — mostly families — in its gym-turned-flood shelter Monday.
Single mother Olga Velazquez had red-rimmed, teary eyes as she walked through the drizzle toward the front door of the church on Monday. In one hand she held a black plastic bag with some belongings. In the other, she held the hand of one of her four children.
Velazquez says she was asked to leave her mobile home and she left behind most of her things, which were covered in dirty water.
“I have lost everything,” she said in Spanish. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next.”
.In Millington, a town of about 11,000 people 17 miles northeast of Memphis, authorities have asked people in low-lying homes to evacuate, but some have refused. About 200 people from a naval facility there already have been moved to hotels.
Officials have been warning for flooding for weeks, and Mayor Mark Luttrell has asked people not to panic while staying alert and monitoring news and weather reports.
“I believe our communities will make it through this safely,” said Bob Nations, Shelby County’s emergency management director.
The flooding danger stretches north to towns such as Dyersburg in Dyer County, where a levee was intentionally breached to ease pressure on rivers and miles of farmland were flooded. About 20 homes were evacuated.
Meanwhile in Nashville, hundreds of people gathered at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Monday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of deadly flooding that devastated the city last May.
In the aftermath of the flooding, 2,600 people were left homeless at least temporarily, and thousands evacuated. Homes were shoved off their foundation and cars were left submerged.
There were 10 flood-related deaths in Nashville. The names of those victims were read during part of Monday’s program and a bell rang solemnly after each one.
“Each of us lost the false confidence that natural disasters are always somebody else’s news story,” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said.
Associated Press writer Lucas L. Johnson contributed to this report from Nashville
Adrian Sainz/The Associated Press