River crest prediction moved up a day|[03/24/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2008

The Mississippi River rose a foot and a half at Vicksburg over the weekend and the National Weather Service has bumped the date of the expected crest two days sooner.

The good news is that the river, expected to pass flood stage of 43 feet on Wednesday, is still expected to top out at 46 feet — but on April 4, not April 5.

Today’s 7 a.m. reading was 40.6 feet, up from 40 feet Sunday.

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The river is forecast to crest today in Cairo, Ill., at 54 feet

“It looks like the forecasts for most areas south of Cairo, including Vicksburg, will hold steady from here on out,” said Marty Pope, National Weather Service senior hydrologist in Jackson.

Pope said there’s a chance of rain in the forecast this week for areas of south Missouri and the Ohio River Valley, but he did not think it would have a major effect on river forecasts unless there is much more rainfall than anticipated.

“Right now it looks like the Ohio Valley and Upper Mississippi Valley could receive anywhere from less than 1 inch to up to 3 inches later in the week,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it will have a huge, huge, effect on the overall levels, but it’s something to watch for as the week moves on.”

In Vicksburg, the forecast calls for clear skies through Thursday, with a chance of rain this weekend.

Here, flood preparations have been under way more than a week. Owners of farmland and the few homes and businesses involved know the routine for a 46-foot river.

Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens met with Aldermen Sid Beauman and Michael Mayfield today, as well as with city building and inspection director Victor Grey-Lewis. The city predicts any area that experienced flooding in June 2002 will also take on water in the coming week, and is advising those in affected areas to evacuate. Spring rises are normal along the Mississippi’s path, but there has been no major flooding in about 20 years. The highest stage recorded here was 56 feet in 1927.

Forecasters warned communities in the Arkansas prairie along the White River that they could suffer their worst flooding in more than a quarter-century under clear skies and sunshine.

“You may be wondering why we issued a flash flood watch in eastern Arkansas when there is little to no rain in the forecast,” John Robinson of the National Weather Service in North Little Rock wrote Sunday in an e-mail to reporters.

“There will be water going into areas where people have not seen it before, and may not be expecting to see high water,” Robinson wrote.

Upstream, the Black River sliced through a 60-year-old levee before emergency workers and volunteers could stem the tide with a mountain of sandbags Saturday. The Black enters the White River near Newport in northeast Arkansas.

Forecasters issued a flash flood warning through this morning for communities along the White River.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said water broke through two spots of the Black River levee. Spokeswoman Renee Preslar said the break was fueled by water pouring in from soaked southeastern Missouri, flooding outlying areas to the south of Pocahontas.

Arkansas emergency management officials have said early estimates for statewide damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure was at $2 million, though that figure was expected to grow. Forecasts show it likely will be the middle of this week before rivers statewide see significant drops.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has declared 35 counties disaster areas.

Last week’s torrential rainstorms also caused flooding in parts of Ohio and southern Illinois and in wide areas of Missouri.

At least 17 deaths have been linked to flooding, wet roads and other weather effects over the past week, and one person is missing in Arkansas. Thousands of Missouri residents have fled to Red Cross shelters or to the homes of friends or relatives.

The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau was 40.9 feet Sunday, 9 feet above flood stage, and was expected to crest at 41.5 feet this morning.

Towns south of where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet in Cairo, Ill., braced for flooding expected in the next couple of days.

“They’re not going down yet,” said John Campbell, operations chief at Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency. “They’re still rising.”

The Mississippi at Cairo, Ill., was expected to crest at 54 feet Tuesday morning, 14 feet above flood stage.

Moderate flooding was forecast for New Madrid, where the river was expected to crest at 42 feet Wednesday evening. The river will crest at 41 feet in Caruthersville Friday morning, the National Weather Service said.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.