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More in Memphis told to flee flooding

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- More Memphis residents were being told yesterday to flee their homes for higher ground as the Mississippi's crest edged toward the city, threatening to bring more flooding to parts of an area already soaked.

Officials were going door-to-door, warning about 240 people to get out before the river reaches its expected peak Tuesday. In all, residents in more than 1,300 homes have been told to go, and some 370 people were staying in shelters.

The Mississippi spared Kentucky and northwest Tennessee any catastrophic flooding and no deaths have been reported there, but some low-lying towns and farmland along the banks of the big river have been inundated with water. And there's tension farther south in the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana, with the river's crest continuing a lazy pace, leaving behind what could be a slow-developing disaster.

Jittery Memphis residents have been abandoning low-lying homes for days as the dangerously surging river threatened to crest at 48 feet, just shy of a 48.7-foot record of a devastating 1937 flood.

Record river levels, some dating as far back as the 1920s, have already been broken in some areas upstream. Heavy rains and snowmelt have been blamed for swelling the big river, and there's so much water in the Mississippi, the tributaries that feed into it are also backed up, creating some of the worst flood problems so far.

Downriver in Louisiana, residents were warned that even if a key spillway northwest of Baton Rouge were to be opened, they could expect 5- to 25-feet deep water over parts of seven parishes. Some of Louisiana's most valuable farmland is expected to be inundated.

The vital Morganza spillway, northwest of Baton Rouge, could be opened as early as Thursday, although a decision has not yet been made.

A separate spillway northwest of New Orleans was to be opened today, helping ease the pressure on levees there, and inmates were set to be evacuated from the low-lying state prison in Angola.

Engineers say it is unlikely any major metropolitan areas will be inundated as the water pushes downstream over the next week or two. Nonetheless, officials are cautious.

Since the flood in 1927, a disaster that killed hundreds, Congress has made protecting the cities on the lower Mississippi a priority, spending billions to fortify cities with flood walls and carve out overflow basins and ponds, a departure from the "levees-only" strategy that led to the 1927 disaster.

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