Picture of the Day: Once this was all fields... The Mississippi floodgates open

Over the next few days, water spewing through a Mississippi River floodgate will crawl through the swamps of Louisiana's Cajun country, chasing people to higher ground while leaving much of the land under 10 to 20 feet of water.

The floodgate was opened on Saturday for the first time in nearly four decades, shooting out like a waterfall six feet into the air. Fish jumped or were hurled through the white froth and what was dry land soon turned into a raging channel.

A flood-impacted area of the Mississippi, pictured in this image taken from the International Space Station on 12 May, shows the areas of Ruckers Place, Tennessee, and Tomato, in Arkansas, surrounded by water.

The opening of the spillway diverted water from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi. Shifting the water away from the cities eased the strain on levees and reduces the potential for catastrophic flooding.

The water will flow 20 miles south into the Atchafalaya Basin, and from there it will roll on to Morgan City, an oil-and-seafood hub with a community of 12,000.

Most people had left the town of Butte LaRose yesterday, where water was expected to arrive later in the day. AP