Floodwaters to linger in Mississippi town for weeks, forecasters say
- NEW: Vicksburg restaurant holds "River Crest Party"
- Experts: It will take until mid-June for floodwaters to recede in Vicksburg
- The Mississippi River first rose out of its banks on April 30
- A 69-year-old Vicksburg resident dies from drowning
The Mississippi River is not expected to return to its 43-foot flood stage in Vicksburg until after June 14, which is 46 days after it climbed out of its banks, said Amanda Roberts, a National Weather Service hydrologist said.
It crested at 57.1 feet Thursday, and the weather service predicts the crest will hold through at least Saturday morning in Vicksburg.
The flood also claimed the first victim in the state -- Vicksburg resident Walter Cook -- who died after being pulled from floodwaters, according to the Warren County coroner, who said Thursday it's not clear how Cook ended up in them.
For some, the cresting floodwaters, which damaged hundreds of homes and displaced 2,000 Vicksburg residents, was cause for relief. For others, it was a reason to celebrate.
Eddie Monsour, who owns a waterfront restaurant, threw a "River Crest Party" on Thursday night.
"Usually we've got a good crowd, but nothing like it is now. We're probably 200 people more than we usually are," Monsour told CNN affiliate WJTV.
"There's tourists here. People from all over the state just coming to see the water. They've never seen anything like it."
The patrons also included local evacuees such as Louise Roland of Eagle Lake.
"(I'm) just here to celebrate the river cresting," Roland said. "Hopefully, it'll start going down soon."
All but about a dozen of Eagle Lake's 600 residents evacuated, according to CNN affiliate WLBT.
"We talked about it and thought about it, but this really wasn't a decision at all," one of the holdouts, Cindy Roberson, told WLBT. "This is home, this is where our stuff is."
Local officials caution that some area residents may have to wait to return to their homes.
Flooded houses, they say, pose a variety of dangers, including debris, hazardous waster, gas leaks and the presence of snakes or other potentially dangerous animals forced out of their habitats and into residential areas by the rising floodwaters.
"Right now we're moving to the recovery stage," Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield told CNN.
"Our first priority, I believe, should be public safety, to continue to encourage our residents and onlookers to stay free of the water."
Winfield said that law enforcement officials are patrolling evacuated areas of the city to help ensure that abandoned homes and businesses aren't burglarized. Each flooded property must be "assessed" before an owner can return to it, he said.
Residents who live along the river should be vigilant, said Marty Pope, a senior hydrologist with the weather service.
Warren County, which includes Vicksburg, has "several hundred homes that have water" and about 2,000 residents have been displaced, Sheriff Martin Pace said.
County residents are accustomed to flooding and know what to do, but none have experienced it at this magnitude, according to Pace.
The river began cresting ahead of schedule Wednesday night probably because an old levee system in the Mississippi city of Greenville was breached May 13 and spread the flood's flow, Pope said.
The Mississippi River is more than 14 feet above flood stage at Vicksburg and more than a foot over the record set in the city in 1927.
Water levels in Natchez, a city about 70 miles south, are nearly 4 feet beyond the record, with the river at 61.9 feet Thursday night -- and the crest isn't expected to arrive until Saturday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kept a watchful eye on the Yazoo Backwater Levee, which residents near Vicksburg were counting on for protection. It is designed to keep water from backing into parts of the Yazoo River delta.
A slide was detected on the mainline Mississippi levee at Albemarle Lake, the Corps of Engineers said Thursday. It occurs when the integrity of a levee is undermined because dirt and sand are being eroded, said Corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson.
"It will take about a full week to repair," she said.
Farther south, where the Mississippi River has not yet crested, residents were working to clear out their homes and find ways to get by.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has asked for federal assistance in grappling with flooding resulting from the Morganza Spillway, where 17 bays have been opened in hopes of sparing New Orleans further downstream.
Mandatory evacuations will be in effect Saturday -- beginning at midnight Friday -- in Butte La Rose, Happy Town and the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area, the St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office said.
By Saturday morning, "the area will be secured and no one will be allowed to enter," the parish said in a news release.
Officials said spillway gates are likely to be open for weeks. It will be weeks before the river falls below flood stage, allowing evacuees to return.