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Mississippi River Rises to Second-Highest Level Ever


Motorists travel on the Interstate 40 bridge between Memphis, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark., over the flood-swollen Mississippi River Monday, May 9, 2011.

Motorists travel on the Interstate 40 bridge between Memphis, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark., over the flood-swollen Mississippi River Monday, May 9, 2011.

U.S. weather forecasters say the Mississippi River has risen to its second-highest level ever in the southern state of Tennessee, after unleashing major flooding in low-lying areas.

Thousands of residents in several states have evacuated their homes along the Mississippi River as flooding - triggered by rain and melting snow - has reached levels not seen in decades.

National Weather Service spokesman Christopher Vaccaro says the river surged above 14.5 meters Tuesday near Memphis - Tennessee's largest city. He said the waterway is projected to continue rising to more than 14.6 meters later in the day.

That would be just short of the river's record crest of 14.8 meters more than 70 years ago.

Vaccaro says the river is expected to hold steady at this level through Wednesday before gradually receding beginning on Thursday.

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in Tennessee on Monday, ordering federal aid to help state and local recovery efforts in the area. The state was also struck by severe storms and tornadoes last month.

The president has also signed emergency or disaster declarations for other states hit by flooding and bad weather, including Louisiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Mississippi.

In Louisiana, authorities are expected to open a spillway in an effort to lower river levels in the city of Baton Rouge, as well as in New Orleans, which was inundated with floods after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Popular historical sites were expected to be spared from the floods. World-famous landmark Graceland, the late singer Elvis Presley's estate in Memphis, was not threatened by the water.

Violent tornadoes last month devastated a number of southern U.S. cities and killed more than 300 people, with the worst destruction several hundred kilometers east of the flooding.

The Mississippi River is North America's largest river system. The river spans more than 3,700 kilometers from the northern United States down to the Gulf of Mexico.

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