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Even miles from swollen Mississippi, flood threat 'unprecedented'

As the Mississippi River floods, its tributaries are backing up, with the Yazoo River even flowing in a reverse direction. It could not come at a worse time. Cotton and rice are starting to sprout.

By Staff writer / May 12, 2011

A resident drives slowly on River Road north of Yazoo City, Miss., as the flood waters begin to submerge the street on Thursday, May 12. Area farmers are watching helplessly as thousands of acres of corn, wheat, soybean and cotton crops are now underwater as the tributaries are backing up from flooding along the Mississippi River.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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Yazoo City, Miss.

As the muddy waters of the Mississippi River continue to rise, the more densely populated communities along the Mississippi Delta have been garnering much of the attention – as well they should. Cresting waters have already flooded hundreds of people out of their homes and shut down 16 casinos, a serious blow to the area’s economy.

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But drive about two hours west of the mighty river and other water fills the landscape in the form of creeks, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, a combined testament to the area’s fertility for growing crops and to a lush environment where anything, and everything, seems to turn green.

However the endless series of these Mississippi tributaries snaking across the Delta’s flat and expansive stretch of farmland makes towns like Yazoo City, nestled along the Yazoo River, just as vulnerable to disaster.

Water backed up from the Mississippi is already causing the smaller Yazoo tributary to flood, much like what happened earlier this week in the Memphis area. There the majority of damage was caused not by the Mississippi overflowing its banks in the city’s downtown, but by its many tributaries, like the Wolf and Loosahatchie Rivers, failing to contain the waters the mightier river pushed back.

Evacuations in lowland areas of unincorporated Shelby County, which includes Memphis, caused rooftop flooding of trailer parks and other small communities that had the misfortune to be located amid lowlands located far from the Mississippi.

Signs that the same thing will happen far inland in Mississippi are already present. With the Mississippi River rising in Vicksburg, Miss., the Yazoo is backing up, flowing in a reverse direction, and causing floods.

Nearly 80 percent of the land in Yazoo County, a 450-square-mile area, could be underwater, officials say. If that takes place, it could not come at a worse time. Soybeans and corn are already in the ground. Cotton and rice are starting to sprout.

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