Nearly 3 million people are under a state of emergency in Mississippi after the Pearl River rose to historic levels, causing flooding around the state capitol of Jackson.
Around 1,200 homes are damaged after entire neighborhoods were left flooded.
One day after the Pearl River crested near Mississippi’s waterlogged capital city of Jackson, flash flood watches were scattered across the region Tuesday morning as more storms marched across the South.
Mississippi officials expressed cautious optimism on Monday as they announced the swollen river had crested at a height lower than initially feared.
The crest came after what Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves called a “long weekend” due to rising floodwaters and additional evacuations throughout Jackson and the broader central Mississippi area.
The river, which reached major flood stage over the weekend, crested near Jackson on Monday at around 36.67 feet, down slightly from a projected crest height of 38 feet. Still, a 38-foot water height was reported along the river in the area of Highway 25 north to the Barnett Reservoir dam.
As it began to recede, the river was nearing moderate flood stage, which consists of heights from 33 to 36 feet, Tuesday morning.
John Sigman, general manager of the Pearl River Water Supply District, said water levels at the 33,000-acre lake had dropped below 298 feet Monday morning.
A discharge of 75,000 cubic feet per second was instituted during the overnight hours, but that had dropped to 70,265 at 9:15 a.m. local time. Another reduction was scheduled for Monday evening.
“We still need to create storage space in the lake for the rain in the forecast for this week and balance that with the flood concerns downstream. The good news is that inflows into the lake are falling and will fall very rapidly going forward,” Sigman said in a statement.
Update: Monday 2/17/2020 – Barnett Reservoir pic.twitter.com/0I3CpisfPB— PRVWSD (@prvwsd) February 17, 2020
By Tuesday, the water supply district lower the release to 55,250 cubic feet per second.
“The lake responded favorably overnight, dropping to a more comfortable level and we made the move early [Tuesday] morning in hopes of easing flood conditions downstream,” said Sigman, who added that further reductions were anticipated.
Authorities have been going door-to-door in the hardest-hit areas to tell people to evacuate. Local law enforcement conducted another 16 assisted evacuations on Monday.
The record crest for the Pearl River is 43.28 feet, set in 1979. The river has topped 36 feet only seven times and not once since 1983, but that changed on Saturday night as the water level rose above 36 feet for the eighth time.
Reeves issued a state of emergency declaration on Saturday to deploy the necessary resources to help those impacted.
“This is a historic, unprecedented flood,” Reeves said on Twitter over the weekend.
Reeves said he received a call from President Donald Trump on Monday and the president expressed his concern about the flooding and had offered to help with ongoing relief efforts.
More rain is in the forecast this week, as persistent rounds of storms take aim at the South.
“Please do not move back into your neighborhood, or into your home until authorities and officials give you the OK to do so,” he said.
As the week progresses, the flood threat is expected to focus on areas farther downstream, which includes the city of Columbia in Marion County. Current forecasts show the river reaching moderate flood stage and cresting at around 25 feet on Sunday.
“While discharges from Barnett Reservoir are decreasing and the river levels are dropping in Jackson, we caution downstream communities that the National Weather Service is predicting a rise in the lower Pearl due to rainfall. Local rainfall can result in flash flooding anywhere along the Pearl River.
“We as a state are not in the clear yet,” Reeves said.
There have been no reports of injuries at this time, but officials expect the number of damaged homes to be in the “hundreds” and possibly near a thousand.
Michel credited residents in the evacuation areas for following orders and not jeopardizing the lives of first responders.
Over 156,000 sandbags have been distributed throughout the area and the Jackson Police Training Academy, which was being used as a temporary shelter, still had space for those who needed to evacuate.