- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2011

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi River crested at more than 14 feet above flood stage in Vicksburg on Thursday, a slightly lower than expected level that eased worries about water potentially spilling over a nearby levee and inundating thousands more acres of farmland.

But officials warned that the flood was by no means over. The river was expected to stay at its crest for several days before beginning a long, slow retreat. It could remain above flood stage until mid-June.

“The crest is by no means the end of it,” said Col. Jeffrey R. Eckstein, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Vicksburg District.

In one of the city’s hardest-hit areas, mechanic Chris Lynn has paddled a small aluminum boat across his flooded property every day to mark the water line on his shop. Water has crept close to his mobile home, though it has yet to go in.


“My son died in a car accident a few months ago, so this ain’t nothing. But to a lot of people, it is,” he said.

Authorities had been worried for days that water might spill over the Yazoo Backwater Levee north of Vicksburg. But because the water was not expected to rise any higher, they did not expect to evacuate any more people. Some 2,000 city residents have already been forced from their homes.

Also Thursday, authorities reported the first person to die in Mississippi floodwaters since the mighty river began climbing out its banks last month in the Midwest - a 69-year-old man who apparently collapsed in the high water.

At least eight deaths in Arkansas have been attributed to flooding, but all of those happened in flash floods or Mississippi tributaries.

Walter Cook was pulled from the water Tuesday by two firefighters on boat patrol in downtown Vicksburg.

David Day, who owns a restaurant near Mr. Cook’s home, said Mr. Cook, a frequent customer, came in Tuesday asking for a lighter.

He said he gave Mr. Cook a lighter and thought he was going home, but instead Mr. Cook went deeper into the water, which soon reached up to his waist. Mr. Day said he yelled a warning to Mr. Cook, but he kept going.

Soon after, Mr. Cook collapsed. After he was pulled from the water, rescuers took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead Thursday.

In Port Gibson, few people could have been happier than Eddie Simmons to hear about the crest just north in Vicksburg.

Mr. Simmons, a retired logger, is recovering from hip-replacement surgery and can barely leave his bed. He has stayed in his home despite water swamping his front yard and creeping beneath his house. Visitors have to use a back door to get in because of the high water.

Lying in bed Thursday, Mr. Simmons was confident his house would survive now that the river had done its worst. “It’s God’s work. You’ve got to deal with him. You can run to high ground, but if God wants to come there, he can come there. You might as well stay put.”

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