- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

TUNICA, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi River was still rising Wednesday, with more than a foot to go before reaching a predicted crest Saturday at Tunica.

But residents and casino officials, while remaining watchful, said the rare winter flood appeared to be a manageable nuisance compared to the spring crest of 2011. That deluge wrecked hundreds of houses unprotected by the main levee system and disrupted business at the gambling halls that drive the county’s economy.

In its Wednesday forecast update, the National Weather Service lowered the predicted crest at Memphis, Tennessee, by a few inches, but is maintaining earlier predictions downriver. For most locations, that means a flood well below 2011, but at or above levels in 2008. At the Tunica RiverPark, about 10 miles upriver from the Cut-Off, a column symbolizing the 2011 crest remained well above waters that were encroaching on parts of the property. Downriver, north of Vicksburg, Mississippi, officials closed a state highway leading to Eagle Lake.

Though water was standing in roads at the Nel-Win fishing camp at Tunica Cut-Off, elevated houses were far from being threatened. Many of those houses were raised farther up after 2011, which ravaged the camps facing the oxbow Tunica Lake.

“I’ve only got like a foot of water under my house,” said Robert Ivy, whose Nel-Win home is elevated 14 feet.

Ivy and most other residents had evacuated from the fishing camps behind the Mississippi River levee. Entergy Mississippi turned off electricity Wednesday morning, citing safety concerns, although a few small groups of residents stayed behind. Ivy said he was staying in his sister’s garage apartment in Crenshaw.

“It looks like we’ll be out for about a week, maybe,” Ivy said.

Jerome Cottam was one of a smaller group of residents who had stayed behind, assuming informal responsibility to protect property. He had hooked up a generator to maintain power, and said he was comfortable in his house, which is elevated 32 feet.

“I’m not at the ocean, so the lake is the second-best thing,” Cottam said.

Cottam, who is partly retired, said he would probably go duck hunting and do a little work by Internet in coming days.

The Fitz Casino & Hotel was pumping water out of a detention pond as a precaution, but General Manager Steve Ditchkus emphasized that his gambling hall remains open for business. Earlier predictions called for the river to rise high enough to cut off the low-lying road to the Fitz, and the casino rented pumps and had started filling sandbags before predictions were revised downward Monday.

Webster Franklin, president of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the earlier predicted flood height could have shuttered multiple other casinos, because some low-lying levees would have been intentionally breached in an effort to prevent more serious damage.

Tunica casinos have struggled with declining business, and Ditchkus and others say the 2011 flood prompted some local business to shift to a gambling hall in Arkansas. So especially after one casino closed for a few hours Sunday and Monday, officials are eager to lay out the welcome mat.

“This is not a 2011 event,” Franklin said. “It is a high event, but Tunica is open for business as usual.”

People are still making preparations, though. Will Aycock said a moving service hauled a mobile home out of a hunting camp in Rena Lara, downriver in Coahoma County, just before a rising Mississippi River cut off the road last week.

“It was wild because we were racing the river,” the Olive Branch resident said.

Wednesday, Aycock and two friends had forded the water at Nel-Win to launch a boat to hunt ducks pushed south by winter’s belated arrival. They didn’t bag any, though. Aycock’s friend Garrett Melton said there was too much water, meaning the ducks could land anywhere.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy


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