Officials across the Tennessee and lower Mississippi valleys prepared Friday for more rainfall that could add water to already-overflowing rivers, while Mississippi officials ordered evacuations and closed roads as water continues to rise behind a levee.
Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Thursday making it easier for Tennessee to recover from the effects of serious flooding, beginning the process for declaring a federal disaster. Parts of the state set records for rainfall last month, with flooding in homes, businesses, roads, farms and fields, and led to landslides and highway closures.
River levels remain high in parts of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, with more rain expected Friday and Saturday. There are flood worries along the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers, as well as their tributaries and at reservoirs operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
In Mississippi, Warren County officials voted Friday to order evacuation of the Eagle Lake community, north of Vicksburg, even as state officials were closing two highways in neighboring Yazoo County.
The region is being affected by flooding behind the Yazoo Backwater Levee, which protects thousands of square miles of the Mississippi Delta region from even worse flooding by the Mississippi River. But when officials close a floodgate keeping out the big river, water draining from the north has nowhere to go, rising inside the levee-protected area. That gate has been closed since Feb. 15 and is unlikely to reopen until after the Mississippi River crests at Vicksburg early next week.
Warren County Emergency Management Director John Elfer said water could cut off the only remaining road to Eagle Lake. He says people aren’t being forced to leave, but Elfer warns the community may become inaccessible to firefighters and emergency medical services. Elfer says about 500 people live or have vacation houses at Eagle Lake.
Heavy rain this weekend could worsen a slow-moving disaster that will already flood more than 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) of farmland.
In Tennessee, Lee’s order enables easier delivery of health care, insurance and relief supplies to 83 Tennessee counties affected by flooding. It also helps the repair of state and federal highways damaged by high water.
The order is retroactive to Feb. 6 and runs through April 7. Lee was scheduled to survey damage in Hardin County and other flood-stricken areas of west Tennessee on Friday.
TVA said Friday that water releases in Tennessee River tributaries were continuing at an aggressive pace as the agency manages river levels.
The river remains above flood stage at Savannah, Perryville and near Pickwick Dam in Tennessee, and Florence in Alabama, said James Everett, manager of the TVA’s River Forecast Center.
Water releases at Kentucky Dam are near record levels, Everett said.
TVA is keeping an eye on the weather Friday and Saturday, when 1-3 inches (2-7.5 centimeters) could fall in the Tennessee River valley, Everett said.
TVA is urging people to use extreme caution if they plan to use rivers and lakes for fishing or recreation, as debris and high water pose dangers for boaters.
“These are extremely turbulent waters and extremely high currents,” Everett said.
Meanwhile, flood warnings and advisories remain in effect for the Mississippi River throughout Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. The river is falling at Memphis and is predicted to crest at Greenville, Mississippi, on Saturday. A flood warning also is in effect for the Tombigbee River at Amory in Mississippi.