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May 9th, 2011
06:15 PM ET

Army Corps battles rising Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans

New Orleans (CNN) - Waging war against flooding of historic proportions that has already affected thousands of people in eight Midwestern and Southern states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a spillway Monday north of New Orleans in an effort to calm the rising Mississippi River.

A crowd gathered near the entrance to the Bonnet Carre spillway to watch workers using cranes slide open the gates to the flood control system, which was built beginning in 1929 after a devastating flood two years before. The spillway, like another that could be opened next week, is designed to divert floodwater away from New Orleans and slow the raging river to protect the low-lying city.

While the river's highest levels may still be days away, a decision to open the second flood control structure - the Morganza Spillway - may not be, Gov. Bobby Jindal said. People with property that would flood if the spillway is opened should not dally, Jindal warned.

"My advice to our people is not to wait, to get prepared now," Jindal said.

Upstream in Memphis, Tennessee, residents and authorities had prepared all they could Monday as they anxiously waited for the Mississippi to crest Tuesday morning at a near-record 14 feet above flood stage.

"It's sort of torturous, we've been waiting so long. It's hard keeping peoples' attention. It's warning fatigue, if you will," Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. said. "But we're ready for it."

The river is the highest it's been at Memphis since 1937, when it crested at 48.7 feet - 14.7 feet above flood stage. That flood killed 500 people and inundated 20 million acres of land, said Col. Vernie Reichling, the Corps' Memphis District commander

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