Residents flee ahead of Mississippi floods

Residents of Memphis have begun to abandoning low-lying homes as the dangerously surging Mississippi River threatens to crest in coming days just shy of a 48.7ft record set by a devastating flood in 1937.

Record river levels were expected to be broken in some areas as the swollen river threatened flood-prone areas of the city through the Mississippi Delta into Louisiana farming country. In Memphis, the river is expected to crest at 48ft tomorrow.

Some Memphis residents panicked after further rain on Saturday. "Reality has set in, so now we're getting more calls," said Alvin Pearson, assistant manager of operations for the Memphis bus service.

Downriver in Louisiana, officials warned residents that even if a key spillway north-west of Baton Rouge were to be opened, residents could expect water five to 25ft deep over parts of seven parishes. Some of Louisiana's most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated.

The Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, said that the Morganza to the spillway, north-west of Baton Rouge, could be opened as early as Thursday although a decision has not yet been taken.

A separate spillway north-west of New Orleans was opened yesterday to ease the pressure on levees there. Inmates were also evacuated from the low-lying state prison in Angola.