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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.

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Backwater flooding is already seeping along the Yazoo, and Greg Flynn, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, predicts that water will overtop the levees by at least two feet as early as next week. Floodwaters are expected to crest on May 19.

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“Because it is inland, we don’t typically see that kind of water rise,” Mr. Flynn says. “Anything in [the Yazoo] is just backing up.”

Although area officials are waiting to see how high the water gets, a small number of people in Yazoo City were evacuated and moved to shelters. Although a greater evacuation plan is in place, Yazoo City Police Major Andre Lloyd says, having to “prepare for a flood is really unprecedented” in the area. “We didn’t think it’d get this [amount of water]. But it is growing. It’s getting higher,” he says.

So far the US Army Corps of Engineers say there are no fears of a breach along the Yazoo, but that hasn’t stopped area farmers and other local residents from mobilizing to protect their homes, land, and way of life.

In Carter, Miss., a town recognized only by a shuttered general store dating back to 1903, dump trucks and backhoes busily construct mud levees around private homes, from one-story ranches to more austere, century-old brick estates. Wooden planks are nailed across windows, completing a picture that resembles Southern fortresses. Even area businesses, like Simmons Farmed Raised Catfish, a 30-year company that processes and ships the popular local catch, constructed a levee around its 400-acres of catfish ponds.

Last week, Bob Cato started digging a ditch around his 4,000 acres of land, which has been in his wife’s family since before the Civil War. The Yazoo River is in his backyard. His equipment lifts the soil and spreads it into a levee, ending at sandbags that line his driveway.

His land has been through this before. Behind Mr. Cato’s house is the former home of his wife’s grandfather, which survived the 1927 flood. Cato removed the furniture of his home into the older house for safekeeping. The land in every direction is as flat as a quarter. “A foot high in the Delta makes water go a long way,” he says.

Cato is a retired civil engineer and leases his land for farming to his neighbors. But nonetheless, he is committed to riding the waters out by staying put.

“I’m staying here until water comes up the driveway,” he says. “I have my escape route. I’m too old to start over.”

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