Mississippi crests in Memphis; Delta residents prepare for deluge

(AP, ABC7) - The crest of the swollen Mississippi River has rolled past Memphis, Tenn., and into the mostly poor, fertile Delta region. As attention turns to a time-consuming clean up, farmers downriver built homemade levees to protect their crops and engineers diverted water into a lake to ease the pressure on New Orleans levees.

Staying ahead of floodwaters has proven impossible for hundreds, with entire neighborhoods submerged by the cresting river.

Overnight, the Mississippi crested at just below 48 feet in Memphis, shy of a record flood in 1937. "I’ve never ever seen the water this high, probably never will again,” said Robert Jones.

Floodwaters have already washed away crops, damaged hundreds of homes and closed the casinos that have become key to Mississippi's economy. All 19 casinos along the river are to be shuttered by the end of the week. It's estimated that will cost governments at least $12 million in taxes per month.

"We're not buying food, we're not buying beer, we're not sending our linen out to be laundered, so the effect is far more than just what we are experiencing here at the casino," said George Goldoff, a casino employee.

In Memphis, the floodwaters, which extend 2 1/2 miles beyond the river’s bank, are not expected to recede for about two weeks.

"God's in control, that's all we can do and wait and see what happens,” said John Cupples, who lives in Memphis.

In Vicksburg, Miss., some places are already under several feet of water and the crest is not expected before Saturday. Forecasters say the river is likely to peak above the record level set during the flood of 1927.

William Jefferson says water started coming into his house a few days ago and is now at least three feet deep. Standing in rubber boots, watching fish swim up and down his street, Jefferson and his brother debated whether it would be safe to eat fish from the filthy floodwater.

Upstream, Memphis, Tenn., was spared a record flood, but low-lying neighborhoods have been inundated. Residents says they've seen snakes and fish swimming around their homes too.

With reporting from the Associated Press in Vicksburg, Miss.