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Lower Mississippi Braces for Flooding

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers may open the Morganza Spillway north of Baton Rouge to divert water into the Atchafalaya Basin, protecting river levees, but forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

As the Mississippi River floods Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee and Mississippi, Louisiana is bracing for what is anticipated to be a river crest of historic proportions.

Jindal said that opening the spillway, which has not been opened since the 1970s, would affect 2,500 people and 2,000 buildings in rural towns, and will necessitate major evacuations.

Jindal said he will try to give three days' notice before the spillway is opened.

Opening the spillway would flood 18,000 acres of cotton, soybeans, rice sugarcane and other crops.

But failing to open the spillway could flood New Orleans.

On Monday the Corps of Engineers began opening the Bonnet Carre spillway, diverting water into Lake Pontchartrain to take pressure off New Orleans levees.

The Bonnet Carre spillway is south of the Morganza.

Computerized flood map projections estimate that even with both the Bonnet Carre and Morganza Spillways open, the Mississippi will crest at 19.5 feet at New Orleans. The levee is built to handle a crest of 20 feet.

The river is expected to crest in New Orleans on May 23.

The Army Corps of Engineers already has blown open a levee in the Midwest, flooding thousands of acres in Missouri, to try to save the Illinois town of Cairo, which has been evacuated.

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