US & Canada

Memphis flooding: Mississippi River reaches peak

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Media captionBob Nations Jnr, Director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness: "Graceland is safe"

The Mississippi River has peaked at just under 48ft (14.6m) in the southern US city of Memphis, the US national weather service has said.

The city is coping with flood levels not seen since the 1930s, which have forced people from some 1,300 homes.

Officials say they are confident flood control systems will prevent further harm, but warn it could take weeks for the floodwater to recede.

The flooding has been caused by melting snow and heavy rains.

"It's not going to get a lot better for a while," Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said.

Officials said the water was expected to remain at peak levels for the next day.

"Pretty much the damage has been done," National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Borghoff told the Associated Press.

Rising water levels

Officials said the system of levees protecting Memphis from worse damage appeared to have held, but Col Vernie Reichling Jr of the US Army Corps of Engineers said: "We'll breathe a sigh of relief once this crest has passed and is in the Gulf of Mexico."

Authorities have also warned residents to look out for snakes and rats which could seek shelter on higher ground.

Officials downstream in Louisiana have begun evacuating prisoners from one of the state's toughest prisons - the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola - and opened floodgates to relieve pressure on levees outside New Orleans.

Police in Memphis have gone door-to-door to 1,300 homes over the past few days to warn people about the rising water levels.

More than 300 people were staying in shelters on Monday, and police increased their presence in evacuated areas to prevent looting.

"I imagine that my trailer, if it's not covered, it's close," Aurelio Flores, an unemployed construction worker, told the Associated Press news agency.

Graceland safe

Image caption The water will take weeks to recede

The record river height of 48.7ft was set in February 1937 during one of the worst Mississippi floods in US history.

In central Memphis, the river had swollen to three miles (4.8km) wide from its typical width of half a mile, the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper reported on Monday.

Further inland, Graceland, the famous home of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley, was out of harm's way, as was Beale Street, a tourist attraction known for Blues music.

"I want to say this: Graceland is safe. And we would charge hell with a water pistol to keep it that way and I'd be willing to lead the charge," director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency Bob Nations Jr said.

Engorged by the spring thaw, the Mississippi has caused significant flooding upstream in Illinois and Missouri.

Further downstream in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, the river has already reached flood stage.

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