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The Mississippi River Floods America’s Heartland

A wide-angle picture of flooded homes in Memphis, Tennessee, this week

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The Mississippi River flows down the middle of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Right now, melted snow and heavy rains from the north are moving south. The result has been what some people are calling the worst flooding in eighty years in states along the Mississippi.

In Louisiana, engineers are working to keep floodwaters away from two big cities -- New Orleans and Baton Rouge. New Orleans is still recovering from the failure of its flood controls during Hurricane Katrina in two thousand five.

A plan to direct some of the water into the Morganza spillway means flooding rich farmlands in another part of the state. As many as twenty-five thousand people may have to leave areas that would be flooded. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been urging them to prepare to leave.

The Morganza spillway is about seventy-five kilometers upriver from Baton Rouge, the state capital. The spillway is a thirty-two-kilometer-long channel that can take waters from the Mississippi to another river system. The spillway was used only once before, in nineteen seventy-three.

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers exploded a three-kilometer-wide hole along an earthen levee in Missouri. They did that to protect river towns in two other states, Kentucky and Illinois. But fifty-two thousand hectares of farmland were flooded as a result.

The American insurance industry says natural disasters have already caused five billion dollars in damage this year. A record number of tornadoes struck along a path from Texas to Georgia. The storms killed more than two hundred people in six states. At the same time, states like Texas and Oklahoma are experiencing extremely dry weather and high winds that have caused wildfires.

President Obama plans to inspect the flooding on Monday. He will visit Memphis, Tennessee, where the Mississippi River reached nearly record levels earlier this week.

The river has been setting records in places like Vicksburg in the state of Mississippi. But experts say the situation would have been far worse if not for the levees, spillways and other flood controls built along the river. These have been built since nineteen twenty-seven, when flooding killed more than one thousand people.

In North Vicksburg, friends and family members have been helping Joann Parks prepare to leave.

Floodwaters invade the center of historic Vicksburg, Mississippi, where a famous Civil War battle took place. The town has suffered record flooding this spring.
Floodwaters invade the center of historic Vicksburg, Mississippi, where a famous Civil War battle took place. The town has suffered record flooding this spring.

JOANN PARKS: "It is just a lot of things that have got to go. Some of the things have got to go, some of the thing I don't know where we are going to store it. It's just hard, I know there is a lot of things we are not going to be able to save."

Vicksburg lies where the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers meet. There was an important battle there in eighteen sixty-three during the Civil War -- which still makes it a popular stop for visitors.

The waters at Vicksburg are expected to reach their highest levels -- seventeen and a half meters – sometime next week. Officials say one thousand homes in the area could be flooded.

Seventy-year-old Winston Holman has lived in Vicksburg all his life.

WINSTON HOLMAN: "I have never seen the river as high as it is right now. And I hope I never see it get this high again. Because, it is hurting a lot of folks around here and a lot of businesses."

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. To see pictures of the flooding, go to I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: Greg Flakus and Jeff Swicord

Watch a video about the flooding in Vicksburg