March 12, 2016 11:38:23 PM
JACKSON -- Soaked Mississippians turned concerns from flash flooding to rising rivers as rain kept falling across the state on Friday.
Authorities warned 1,000 residents in Hattiesburg and Petal to leave their homes, predicting a rapidly rising Leaf River could produce one of the worst floods there in decades. That followed eight inches of rain that were dumped on the area from Thursday night into Friday morning.
Emergency crews were sandbagging low-lying areas and evacuating people in the Delta, as more than 10 inches of rain since Wednesday in Cleveland, Clarksdale and other areas overwhelmed the drainage capacity of the flat region's sluggish rivers.
Mississippi Emergency Management Director Lee Smithson said flooding also was likely along the Pearl River, where as many as 200 homes could flood near Picayune, and along the Escatawpa River in Moss Point.
"It seems like every single river is in flood," said Anna Wolverton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pearl.
Smithson said no deaths or significant injuries have been reported, but two fishermen remain missing on the Mississippi River in Claiborne County since Wednesday. A search for the fishermen continues.
Already, more than 300 homes have been flooded, with the worst damage in Clarksdale, Greenville and Tunica County.
"People went to bed last night thinking 'Thank God I didn't get water in my house,' and this morning they had water coming in under the door," Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett said. He said the deluge far exceeded typical flash flooding.
The mayor said there was little authorities could do except evacuate people against the rising Sunflower River. In addition to 100 houses, the office of the city school system and some businesses were inundated.
"I just feel helpless," Luckett said.
In Drew, Shirley McDaniel watched with dread as water in her yard crept up all day Friday. She said her fiance would probably decide the couple should leave when he came home from work.
"It's just a lot of water, baby," McDaniel said. "It's just a lot of water."
The story was much the same along the Coldwater River in Marks, where Quitman County Emergency Management Director Jimmy Matthews said the river could crest at a near-record level after flash flooding cut 21 county roads and flooded six houses near Sledge.
Drenching deluges hit much of the state between Wednesday and Friday and rain was predicted to continue into Saturday, especially along the Gulf Coast. The rain was produced by a low pressure system that had already flooded parts of Louisiana and Arkansas before camping out over Mississippi.
"It is quite a rare event," said Phil Baker, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Memphis, Tennessee. "The pattern is very slow-moving."
Authorities had to send boats to rescue residents in numerous counties because of flash flooding, including one notable rescue-gone-wrong in Covington County. Smithson said a boat tipped over and five rescuers themselves had to fished from the water. WDAM-TV reported they included Covington County Emergency Management Director Greg Sanford and Covington County Undersheriff Terry Holbrook.
Walthall County Emergency Management Director Roland Vandenweghe told The Enterprise-Journal that authorities rescued campers from rising waters of the Bogue Chitto River at flood-prone Hidden Springs Resort on Thursday and Friday.
Forrest County Emergency Management Director Glen Moore warned residents that they needed to be out of low-lying areas around Hattiesburg by dawn Saturday, saying the Leaf River was rising rapidly.
National Weather Service measurements show the Leaf River has already jumped from 4 feet Thursday evening to 24 feet Friday evening. It's expected to reach a crest of 29.5 feet by Sunday. The flood would be the worst in Hattiesburg since a 1974 inundation that led to the evacuation of 6,000 people and produced waters 15 feet deep.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation said state or federal highways were fully or partially closed in 14 of Mississippi's 82 counties because of flooding or flood damage. The report doesn't count scores of local roads closed or damaged.
Sharon Magee lives in a camp on the Pearl River in Pearl River County. It's elevated 16 feet, but she told WLOX-TV her home will get wet this weekend.
"I will not be going back home, not unless it's by boat," Magee said.
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