VICKSBURG, Miss. — The Mississippi crest rolled past Memphis on Tuesday, going easy on much of the city, yet downriver in the mostly poor, fertile Delta region, floodwaters washed away crops, damaged hundreds of homes and closed casinos key to the state's economy.
In Vicksburg, home of a pivotal Civil War battle, the river was forecast to peak slightly above the record level set during the flood of 1927. Some places were already several feet underwater and the river wasn't expected to peak here until Saturday.
Wearing rubber boots and watching fish swim up and down his street, William Jefferson stood on a high spot in his neighborhood. He said hasn't had a hot meal since water started coming into his house a few days ago.
Now, it's inundated with at least three feet water, as are dozens of other homes in the neighborhood. Nearby, his brother Milton cast a fishing rod.
"At least we can catch something fresh to eat, because we ain't got no icebox or electricity," he said with a smile. Then the pair playfully debated about whether they would actually eat anything caught in the filthy floodwaters.
"If you eat a fish right now, you won't live to see the water go down," William Jefferson said.
Nearly 600 households had suffered water damage, some more extensive than others, said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the state emergency management agency. The residences ranged from run-down farmhouses to modest, one-story homes.
Flynn wasn't sure how many people had evacuated, but he was surprised at the low number of people staying at shelters. In Warren County, where Vicksburg is located, residents walked through town on an elevated railroad track with water several-feet deep on both sides, yet no one was staying in a shelter. To the north, in Tunica County, 24 people slept in a shelter on Monday night, Flynn said.
Others formed a makeshift community of borrowed or quickly bought recreational vehicles.
Jimmy Mitchell, 46, and his wife and two children have been living in a loaned camper for more than week at the Paul Battle Arena and Exposition Center.
"There's no sewage hook-up. You go in a barn to take a shower," said Mitchell, who is from the small community of Cutoff. "We have no time frame on how long we can stay."
As Mitchell and friends sat outside chatting in the breeze, children rode bikes nearby.
"Cutoff is a community where everybody lives from paycheck to paycheck. It's also a community where everybody sticks together," Mitchell said.
Widespread flooding is expected along the Yazoo River, a tributary that joins the Mississippi and is backed up because of the bulging Mississippi. Farmers built homemade levees in an attempt to protect their corn, cotton, wheat and soybean crops, but many believed the crops would be lost entirely.
The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup. Homes had polluted floodwater near the top of the first floor in some areas, others were completely submerged.
Snakes and other creatures infested the foul-waters, and officials warned of unseen bacteria.