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Thousands LA residents flee MS flooding

Residents of Louisiana towns along the Mississippi River evacuate

NEW ORLEANS (UPI) | May 16, 2011

The Mississippi River rolled across Louisiana lowlands Monday on its way to flooding homes and businesses in the battle to save New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

"Hope you appreciate this Baton Rouge. You're welcome," CNN reported the missive on one sign posted outside a home in the path of the floodwater.

The water was rising early Monday in St. Martin Parish, one of the areas affected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' opening of the Morganza Spillway, Parish Council President Guy Cormier said. Opening the floodgates at the Morganza spillway diverted the rushing Mississippi water to Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin.

"It just tears my heart up to know that these people's lives are fixing to change," Cormier said.

In a message of good news, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the decision to open the spillway lowered crest projections in parts of the state -- meaning the corps may need to divert less water from the spillway than initially thought.

Still, the governor warned flooding was still coming.

"There is still a significant amount of water coming our way," he said.

Since the weekend, the National Weather Service dropped Baton Rouge's crest projection from 47.5 feet to 45 feet, Gannett News Service reported. New Orleans' forecast was lowered from 19.5 feet -- 6 inches below the levees protecting the city -- to 17 feet.

Damages to Louisana's agriculture industry alone could total $300 million, Jindal said.

About 2,500 people and 2,000 structures in the path of the Morganza Spillway water face certain flooding, Jindal said. Up to 22,500 other people either will experience flooding or have to depend on newly built and enhanced levees to protect their property, he said.

Prisoners at Louisiana's Angola State Prison were being evacuated, although some would remain behind to help fight the flood, CNN said.

Corps officials have said the "slow opening" was meant to provide the 25,000 residents in the Atchafalaya River basin time to prepare for up to 25 feet of floodwaters. They said it also will give wildlife a chance to move to higher ground.

A near-record crest is forecast in Greenville, Miss., on Tuesday, coming after record crests in Vicksburg and Natchez, both in Mississippi; Red River Landing, La., and Baton Rouge, the National Weather Service said.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the river along a 15-mile stretch near Natchez, Cmdr. Mark Moland said Monday.

The flood has affected nine states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee.

In Tennessee, six days after the Mississippi crested in Memphis, it still was 11 feet above flood stage, the National Weather Service said.

President Obama spent about 35 minutes meeting with flood victims, responders, volunteers and elected officials, learning about the impact of the flood.

"We're there for you, and we're grateful for your resilience," Obama told the gathering.

Throughout the South and lower Midwest, floodwaters have covered about 3 million acres of farmland, eroding for many farmers what could have been a profitable year for corn, wheat, rice and cotton, officials in several states told CNN.

Copyright 2011 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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