The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 18, 2020 1:00 am

Mississippi not yet in the clear

Residents aren't allowed to return to flooded homes


JACKSON, Miss. – The swollen Pearl River appeared to have crested Monday in Mississippi's capital, but authorities warned the hundreds of evacuees in the Jackson area not to rush back home until they got the all clear, and a forecast of more rain put counties farther south at risk of flooding.

No injuries were reported from the major flooding in central Mississippi and southern Tennessee. But as the high water recedes, officials expect to find damaged roads and problems with water and sewage pipes. In Savannah, Tennessee, two houses slid down a muddy bluff into the Tennessee River, although its residents had fled earlier.

“Please do not move back into your neighborhood or into your home until authorities and officials give you the OK to do so,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said at a news conference.

A near-record rainy winter has forced authorities to release water from swollen reservoirs, potentially worsening the flooding for those living downstream.

“It is a chess match we're playing with Mother Nature,” said Jim Hopson, spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Pearl River appeared to crest at just under 37 feet, Reeves said. It is forecast to fall below major flood stage at 36 feet around midnight today, although more problems could arise if rains in the next few days are heavier than forecast.

“We as a state are not in the clear yet,” Reeves said.

The Pearl's highest recorded crest was 43.2 feet on April 17, 1979. The second-highest level occurred May 5, 1983, when the river rose to 39.58 feet.

Reeves thanked residents for heeding evacuation orders. Only 16 search-and-rescue missions were needed, he said, even though as many as 1,000 homes were flooded.

One of those homes belongs to Chris Sharp, who had enough time to find an 18-wheeler, load it with possessions and drive away Friday from the house his parents bought in the 1970s. The house was inundated in those previous two flood years.

On Monday, he tried to go back with a boat, but a police officer turned him away.

“All you can do is just sit back and watch,” Sharp said by phone from his brother's nearby house.

Elsewhere in Jackson, residents paddled boats to check on their houses, giving lifts to other neighbors. Some were able to enter their homes, while others peeked into the windows to check on damage inside. Floodwaters lapped at mailboxes, street signs and cars that had been left in driveways.

The momentary break in the rain enabled water levels at the Barnett Reservoir upriver of the capital to stabilize, but officials repeated their warnings to pay attention to evacuation orders, check on road closures before traveling and stay off any flooded roads.

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