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Vicksburg, Miss., Prepares For Flood

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Parts of the Mississippi Delta are underwater today, and the Mississippi River and its backwaters are still rising. Governor Haley Barbour toured his state by helicopter this morning, and afterward, he had this to say.

Governor HALEY BARBOUR (Republican, Mississippi): The good news, of course, is that the Mississippi River levees are holding.

SIEGEL: Good news, indeed, for the thousands of people and dozens of towns that depend on those levees to keep them dry.

But as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, some low-lying communities are already swamped.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Ola Wells(ph) lives in the Kings Crossing neighborhood, on the north side of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Water is halfway up most of the houses here, and it's creeping ever closer to the trailer she's called home for more than 30 years.

Ms. OLA WELLS: Well, it's right behind the house, you see. So I hope it don't go come no further, but look like it's pushing.

ELLIOTT: Wells, who is 65, sits on the front porch with her 84-year-old mother, Luebertha King(ph). King lives a block away but is flooded out.

Ms. LUEBERTHA KING: I can't get to my house now because the water in my house.

ELLIOTT: Now, she's keeping a close eye on the rising water at her daughter's place.

Ms. KING: It's coming right there. That wasn't there yesterday. It shows you how fast it's coming.

ELLIOTT: Ola Wells figures they'll have to leave, but says she'll watch the water today and leave tomorrow.

Ms. WELLS: I'm packing, trying to, you know, get out of here and go somewhere.

ELLIOTT: Where would you go?

Ms. WELLS: I'll probably have to go to a - try to get in a shelter somewhere. Yeah. Other than that, I ain't got nowhere else to go. But I - the Lord know. He'll make a way. We're going to get out.

Gov. BARBOUR: You need to go on and get out now while you can.

ELLIOTT: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour warns that water is forcing road closures all over the delta. He says it's best to evacuate and not have to be rescued. Barbour says this is like no other natural disaster the state has faced.

Gov. BARBOUR: A flood like this, you'll watch and you see it coming for days and days and days. And then the impact of it lasts for weeks sometime before you can get back to your property. And only then can you start cleaning up and rebuilding. So it's a real tragedy for the people that this happens to.

ELLIOTT: Vicksburg Fire Chief Charles Atkins is seeing that firsthand.

Mr. CHARLES ATKINS (Chief, Fire Department, Vicksburg, Mississippi): When you have to go in and ask a 73-year-old woman that has no family or something like that, she has to move and - that's all she has - to go to a shelter or something to that degree, then, you know, it's kind of touchy.

ELLIOTT: He says 160 homes in Vicksburg are underwater and expects that number to climb until the river crests next Thursday.

Industries and casinos all along the Mississippi have shut down. Today, workers are trying to salvage what business they can at the port of Vicksburg.

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible) that one time.

Unidentified Man #2: All the way out.

ELLIOTT: They're lining the main road into the port with plastic-lined wire baskets filled with sand.

Andy Metts, with the Army Corps of Engineers, says it's a rapid deployment floodwall.

Mr. ANDY METTS (Revetment Chief, Army Corps of Engineers): We're going to create a canyon, if you will, that'll have water on both sides of it.

ELLIOTT: Keeping the truck route open is key, says Wayne Mansfield, director of the Warren County Port Commission.

Mr. WAYNE MANSFIELD (Director, Warren County Port Commission): We have just over 2,500 employees and about 22, 23 industries located at our port. So it's imperative, it's not an option to shut that down, it's imperative that we keep the operations going up there.

ELLIOTT: Governor Barbour says it's too early to put a dollar figure on the state's economic losses in this flood. But with farms inundated and river-dependent businesses at a standstill, the toll will reach at least into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Vicksburg, Mississippi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.