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Mississippi River up to near-record levels

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Mississippi River rose yesterday to levels not seen here since the 1930s, swamping homes in low-lying neighborhoods and driving hundreds from their homes. But officials were confident the levees would protect the city's famous musical landmarks, including Graceland and Beale Street, and that no new areas would have any serious flooding.

As residents in the Home of the Blues waited for the river to crest as early as last night at a projected mark just inches short of the record set in 1937, officials downstream in Louisiana began evacuating prisoners from the state's toughest penitentiary and opened floodgates to relieve pressure on levees outside New Orleans.

In Memphis, authorities have gone door-to-door to 1,300 homes to warn people to clear out, but they were already starting to talk about a labor-intensive cleanup, signaling the worst was probably over.

"Where the water is today, is where the water is going to be," Cory Williams, chief of geotechnical engineering for the Army Corps of Engineers in Memphis, told The Associated Press.

More than 300 people were staying in shelters, and police stepped up patrols in evacuated areas to prevent looting.

Aurelio Flores, 36, his pregnant wife and their three children were among 175 people staying in a gymnasium at the Hope Presbyterian Church in Shelby County. His mobile home had about 4 feet of water when he last visited the trailer park on Wednesday.

Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley made some of the recordings that helped him become king of rock and roll, was not in harm's way. Nor was Stax Records, which launched the careers of Otis Redding and the Staple Singers. Sun Studio still does some recording, while Stax is now a museum.

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