The Mississippi River floods in April and May 2011 are among the largest and most damaging along the U.S. waterway in the past century, rivaling major floods in 1927 and 1993.
In April 2011, two major storm systems dumped record rainfall on the Mississippi River watershed. Rising from springtime snowmelt, the river and many of its tributaries began to swell to record levels by the beginning of May. Areas along the Mississippi itself experiencing flooding include Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. U.S. President Barack Obama declared the western counties of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi federal disaster areas. For the first time in 37 years, the Morganza Spillway has been opened, deliberately flooding 4,600 square miles (12,000 km2) of rural Louisiana to save most of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Fourteen people were killed in Arkansas, with at least 383 killed across seven states in the preceding storms. Thousands of homes were ordered evacuated, including over 1,300 in Memphis, Tennessee, and more than 24,500 in Louisiana and Mississippi state. Some people are disregarding mandatory evacuation orders. Up to 13% of U.S. petroleum refinery output is expected to be disrupted by flood levels exceeding historical records in several locations, with gasoline prices expected to rise.
The flood crested in Memphis on May 10 and artificially crested in southern Louisiana on May 15, a week earlier than it would have if spillways had not been opened. The Army Corps of Engineers stated that an area in Louisiana between Simmesport and Baton Rouge is expected to be inundated with 20Ð30 feet (6.1-9.1 m) of water. Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and many other river towns are threatened, but officials stress that they should be able to avoid catastrophic flooding.
Rainfall totals within the United States for the week ending April 29. From April 14-16, the storm system responsible for one of the largest tornado outbreaks in U.S. history also produced large amounts of rainfall across the southern and midwestern United States.
Two more storm systems, each with heavy rain and tornadoes, hit in the third week of April. In the fourth week of April, from April 25-28, another, even more extensive and deadly storm system passed through the Mississippi Valley dumping more rainfall resulting in deadly flash floods.
This latter storm produced over 250 tornadoes, the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1925, causing an estimated $5 billion dollars in damage. The unprecedented extensive rainfall from these two storms, combined with springtime snow melt from the Upper Midwest, created the perfect situation for a 500-year flood along the Mississippi.
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