Mississippi River nears crest in Memphis, but concern shifts south
Mississippi River floodwaters might pose more of a threat to the Delta region south of Memphis than they do to Memphis itself. In the Delta, the flood brings back memories of 1927.
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The flood was caused by excessive rainfall that made the river span 80 miles in some locations. Arkansas City, for instance, was virtually destroyed, submerged beneath the muddy river for four months. The current levee system was created after that disaster.Skip to next paragraph
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John Barry, author of "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America," says that while the current flood is a long way from the devastation of 84 years ago, it will still poses a threat.
"Let's say everything works perfectly…. You still have several thousand people flooded in Memphis and in excess of 1,000 square miles flooded in the Mississippi Delta and more in Arkansas," Mr. Barry says. "When spillways are opened, you'll have more flooding."
Farmers on alert
Farmers are worried about where the water will go. In the Delta, agriculture is the economic mainstay, and the planting season has already suffered from extreme weather including high winds, heavy rain, and large hail.
The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation estimates that 900,000 acres – much of it the state's most fertile land – will be affected by the flood. In Arkansas, 300 acres of winter wheat was being harvested green in attempt to salvage it from the river. Rice planting is as much as four weeks behind in some parts Arkansas because of flooding.
After the flood water recedes, which could take weeks, farmers have to evaluate roads, levees, irrigation equipment, and buildings, as well as weigh the costs of replanting and reconstructing eroded fields.
"As the crests move down the river, you still have the potential for a breach on both sides where there is a lot of farmland," says Robert Coats, extension agricultural policy analyst for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said the flooding is far from over. "After Memphis crests, the trouble could really start for a lot of farmers or people along the river. A river and its danger is a hard thing to predict."