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Thousands Evacuating Mississippi River Flooding in US

A ramp leading to the Memphis Queen riverboat and its parking area are surrounded by floodwater in Memphis, Tennessee, May 7, 2011.

Thousands of U.S. residents are evacuating their homes along the Mississippi River as flooding in some communities has reached levels not seen in more than 80 years.

Authorities in the large southern city of Memphis, Tennessee are going door to door at homes in low-lying areas threatened by the flooding and handing out flyers in English and Spanish urging residents to evacuate.

On Friday, floodwaters topped the city's 1927 record level and are expected to crest at more than four meters above flood stage next Wednesday.

A week ago, violent tornadoes devastated numerous southern U.S. cities and killed more than 300 people, with the worst destruction several hundred kilometers to the east of the flooding. The new, slow-moving natural disaster is occurring along North America's largest river system that extends more than 3,700 kilometers from the northern part of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico on the southern perimeter of the country.

The flooding along the Mississippi, and the Ohio River that feeds into it, has already forced residents to evacuate their homes in six states. Authorities say the Mississippi's flooding, heightened by overflowing tributaries, is sweeping south. But the worst flooding may not reach the state of Louisiana for three weeks before the rising waters empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

The governor of Louisiana says a decision on opening a spillway to divert some of the water could come as early as Thursday.

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering opening another spillway north of the city of New Orleans, which was inundated with floods after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.