The worst floods to hit the central United States in more than 70 years have swallowed up thousands of homes, farms and roads from Illinois southward to Louisiana.
Officials have erected temporary levees and opened spillways to protect towns and cities from the slow-moving floods but warn that the mighty river will remain above flood stage for weeks to come.
“This is a marathon, this is not a sprint,” said Major General William Grisoli of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the flood protection system.
“We continue to operate this system, the Mississippi River and tributary system, deliberately and safely to protect lives and reduce risks to property,” he said in a conference call.
“And so far, we’ve been very fortunate as the system is working as designed, and we feel very comfortable.”
The slow-moving flood has given people plenty of time to pack up their homes and get out of the way, but the rising waters are still quite dangerous.
Officials have repeatedly warned people to watch out for snakes and other dangerous wildlife displaced by the floods and to beware of other threats hidden by the water.
Walter Cook, 69, was trying to follow a fence around a car lot in Vicksburg, Mississippi when he was slipped into the 4-foot deep water on Tuesday morning. Firefighters managed to resuscitate him, but he died early Thursday, officials said.
Nearly 400 homes in the town and a handful of businesses have been overtaken by the floodwaters — some up to the rooftops.
“I never thought we’d be guarding water but we are,” Vicksburg police lieutenant Bobby Stewart told AFP.
“We’ve finally crested but we’re waiting for a slow fall now. It looks like it’s going to be here a while with us.”
Thousands of residents of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River basin are being evacuated after the Army Corps decided to flood the area to relieve pressure on Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Just about everyone in the fishing village of Butte La Rose has moved to higher ground, but brothers Tommy and Keith Girouard plan to ride it out on their houseboat, “The Rockin’ G.”
“We’ll be just fine,” Tommy said. “My house? Well, that’s another story. I might lose it.”
But the brothers say they were blessed that they had plenty of warning and were able to empty out Tommy’s house and stock up on generators, food and water.
“It’s not like a tsunami or a tornado, where you lose everything in one lick. You can save everything,” Keith said.
Swollen by heavy rains last month and the melting of a thick winter snow pack, the rising waters have has eclipsed records set in the epochal floods of 1927.
The Mississippi’s watershed is the fourth-largest in the world.