The worst is yet to come from the mighty Mississippi

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The flood is expected to crest next Thursday at Vicksburg, where the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers meet, at a level easily higher than in the Great Flood of 1927

The bursting Mississippi was threatening last night to submerge still more farmland, homes and even towns as an enormous swell of water fed by spring rains and snow-melt forged its way to the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing some of the worst flooding since the Great Depression.

Click HERE to view graphic (78k jpg)

While some towns already soaked by the river's wrath further to the north – including Memphis in Tennessee and Cairo in Illinois – were yesterday beginning the task of cleaning up as water levels begin to fall, the worst is still to come for low-lying areas of the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana.

In Louisiana, which has in recent years suffered Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, engineers were getting ready to begin gradually opening sluices on the giant Morganza Spillway just north of the state capital, Baton Rouge. The 5,000ft span of gates has been opened only once before in history.

It is not a decision that will be taken lightly, however. While diverting some of the river's fury through the gates means lowering the risk that levees will be overtopped in Baton Rouge and further downriver in New Orleans, it will mean deliberately flooding vast areas of the state west of the river and close to the coast.

With the first gates likely to be opened at the weekend or early next week, entire cities may be forced to evacuate in the path of the escaping water, including Houma, where the BP clean-up and spill-response teams are housed, and Morgan City. As many as 13,000 buildings, 25,000 people and 3 million acres of land are likely to be impacted, the authorities said.

The situation across parts of the Mississippi Delta was already dire last night, with as many as 600 homes already touched or swamped by muddy water filled with debris and snakes. Residents were on high alert in the city of Vicksburg, where the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers merge.

The flood is expected to crest there next Thursday at a level easily higher than was seen in the so-called Great Flood of 1927.

At Natchez, Mississippi, a little further downstream, the high-water mark stood yesterday at 58.3ft. That was already higher than the 53.04ft mark set in 1937, another year of historic flooding along the river.

Residents have already abandoned their homes in the town of Tunica Cutoff, Mississippi, which last night was entirely cut off leading some in the area to predict it would be swept off the map entirely. "We don't know from day to day," said Lee Sherwin, 77, who fled Tunica Cutoff and is in a Red Cross shelter. "We don't know if we are going to want to go back or even if we can go back. I've never in my life run into a ituation like this, but we are living with it day by day."

Already some economists are warning that this year's spring floods are likely to cause damage worth between $2bn and $4bn. "Crop loss estimates are definitely around $800m for Mississippi alone," said John Michael Riley, an economics professor at Mississippi State University. The Great Flood of 1927 was estimated have cost the US about $230m, the equivalent of $2.8bn today.

The final toll will not be known until the crest finally reaches the Mississippi's mouth in just under two weeks. And much will depend on what happens at the Morganza Spillway and also how well levees and flood-protection walls elsewhere hold up.

There was concern about levees protecting low-lying communities on the Yazoo close to Vicksburg. Were they to fail, a wall of water could inundate large areas of the Mississippi Delta, already one of the most impoverished regions of the United States. Hailey Barbour, the Governor of Mississippi, urged anyone who thought their homemight be at risk to get out as fast as possible. "More than anything else, save your life and don't put at risk other people who might have to come in and save your lives," he said.

Governor Barbour also raised concern about the small numbers of families in the region who have neither phones nor electricity. "They are a tiny number but we must find them," he said.

Cotton-picking and other farms still provide most of the employment in the Delta. Nine of the 11 counties that touch the Mississippi River in the state have poverty rates at least double the national average of 13.5 per cent, according to the US Census Bureau.

While no formal decision had been made on opening sluice-gates at the Morganza Spillway, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said that people should assume that that would happen and anyone living in the path of the water once it was unleashed should evacuate the area as soon as possible.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence