Climb slows as river takes its toll north and south|[04/14/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 14, 2008

More slowly but just as surely the Mississippi River edged toward its predicted crest at Vicksburg in four days from today.

Upstream and downstream, more consequences of the high water were reported, including two deaths at Tunica, closure of the only casino in Natchez and the opening of more bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway upstream from New Orleans, continuing the first opening in 11 years.

At 7 a.m. today, the gauge at Vicksburg read 49.8 feet. That’s up 0.2 foot from Sunday and is 0.7 foot below Friday’s predicted crest at 50.5 feet.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The reading hasn’t been this high since 1973 when the river crested at 51.6 feet.

Upstream, the river rose at Greenville and Arkansas City, was even at Helena and down slightly at Memphis. All points north of Memphis to Cape Giradeau, Mo., however, recorded higher stages.

In Tunica, the first two deaths attributed to flooding have been reported, one taking place last Friday and on the Friday before. The Tunica Sheriff’s Department said two men died of freshwater drowning, the first while riding an ATV in flooded areas and the second while boating in a flooded neighborhood.

In Natchez, Isle of Capri Casino directors said Sunday the casino’s buildings are not taking on water, but the access road to the casino has become impassible and forced the business to close until waters subside.

None of the four riverside casinos in Vicksburg has had operations affected by flooding, although DiamondJacks Casino’s showroom and special events facility has begun to take on water.

“The structure is a permanent structure built on top of the cofferdam,” said Heather Butler, spokesman for DiamondJacks. “It’s taking on a little bit of water right now, but it isn’t affecting operations.”

Bonnet Carre Spillway gates were opened Friday for the first time since 1997. The spillway diverts water from the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico via Lake Pontchartrain, thus allowing high water to bypass New Orleans and other river communities. The structure has 350 gated bays, of which 84 are now open. In 1997, 298 bays were opened.

Pam Vedros, public information officer for the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division and Mississippi River Commission, said the opening of the spillway will not have any effect on river stages or the crest in Vicksburg.

“It’s only done to relieve pressure on the levees near New Orleans,” she said. “It doesn’t affect when the river will crest here, or how fast it will go down after the crest.”

In what could have been a far more serious accident, a barge-crewboat wreck was reported Sunday 40 miles upstream from Baton Rouge.

The boat carrying employees of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola collided with a barge on the river, injuring 18 people and leaving hundreds of state prison employees looking for a new way to get to work today.

The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the collision, but could not confirm high water played a role. The prison uses a ferry to take workers and their vehicles back and forth from the west side of the river to the prison on the east side. However, crewboats — typically used to move workers to offshore petroleum platforms — had been used recently because of the high water, prison spokesman Angie Norwood said.

In Vicksburg, several restrictions have been enforced on barge traffic for weeks by the Coast Guard. Southbound tows must have a minimum of 280 horsepower per barge pushed, and may pass beneath the bridges at the city only during daylight hours. Northbound tows may pass beneath the bridges only at night. Additionally, a traffic center has been established in cooperation with Ergon Marine, which is just north of DiamondJacks Casino, and southbound tows must check in there to queue up to pass beneath the bridges.

“It’s been working well thus far,” said Lt. Teresa Hatfield, Coast Guard supervisor of the marine safety detachment in Vicksburg. “We had a quiet weekend here, thankfully.”

The U.S. 80 bridge has been struck by barges four times by southbound barges in recent weeks, and a northbound tow broke up about 15 miles north of the city.

Since the river at Vicksburg surpassed flood stage on March 29:

132 residents have been displaced from 71 homes in Vicksburg due to flooding, according to city emergency management officials.An estimated 240,000 acres of forest and farmland have been submerged throughout the Delta, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydraulic Technician Waylon Hill. An additional 100,000 acres could go under by the time the river crests, if the forecast holds at 50.5 feet for Friday.Most of the 1,300-person work force at LeTourneau Technologies remained laid off as the road to the riverside offshore rig construction site is under water and has been closed since Tuesday.The temporary Red Cross shelter at Calvary Baptist Church on Warriors Trail closed Friday. The shelter had served as a refuge for up to 12 residents of Ford subdivision since it was opened on April 1. A second shelter has been identified and will be opened if needed, said Vicksburg Red Cross Director Beverly Connelly.Crossties have been placed in all of the openings on the Vicksburg floodwall, closing off public access to City Front.Roadways in Vicksburg and Warren County covered with water and closed include Williams Street, Ford Road, Eva Street, Chickasaw Road, Long Lake Road, Thompson Lake Road, Kings Point Road, LeTourneau Road and Mississippi 465.

Mississippi RiverCREST FORECAST50.5 feet on FridayTODAY’S STAGE:49.8 feetROSE:0.2 footFLOOD STAGE:43 feet