May 15, 2011 / 8:32 PM / 7 years ago

Greenville, Miss. bracing for river's flood crest

GREENVILLE, Mississippi (Reuters) - Matt Eaton has lived his entire life on the Mississippi River, and it’s in his blood.

Now the flooding river is in his house as well.

“I know the river like the back of my hand, and I’ve never seen it as high as it is now,” he said.

Eaton’s family settled near Lake Ferguson, an oxbow-shaped lake left from an old river channel that sits between two levees. His father met his mother on the Mississippi when he saw a campfire in the distance and paddled over to investigate.

On Monday, the Mississippi is scheduled to crest in Greenville at 65 feet, within inches of the 1927 record.

Eaton’s house is already flooded, and he has to paddle in a boat to reach it. A game warden on Saturday told him he could not return although he has a permit to enter.

Eaton, who recently underwent open-heart surgery, was desperate as he sat in his pick-up truck outside the Mississippi Levee Board.

“My cat just had kittens, and I need to rescue them,” he said. “My mother’s antique furniture is there. I just want to get back, get the cats and stack some of the furniture on the bed before the river gets higher.”

“I’d like to be able to save what I can,” Eaton said. “If not, I guess I’ll start over, move someplace else.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the levee, built to hold back 75 feet of water, was expected to hold, said Ginger Morlino, secretary for the local levee board.

Still, about 100 homes are flooded around Lake Ferguson, Morlino said.

Legend has it that part of Greenville is still under Lake Ferguson from the historic 1927 flood that devastated sections of the Mississippi Delta.

Like Eaton, Morlino lives on Lake Ferguson. A few years ago, she and her husband added four feet of soil to their yard and put their house on 10-foot stilts to stand above the 100-year-flood plain.

But that won’t be high enough for this year’s disaster, which has pushed river gauges to record levels from Cairo, Illinois to Natchez, Mississippi.

“When it’s all said and done, I’ll still have two feet of water in my house,” she said.

Her son’s house, also built around Lake Ferguson, is under more than 13 feet of water. Only the roof is visible in the muddy water.

The rising river is the talk of Greenville, a town of 35,000 people.

“The man upstairs is not happy,” said Sarah Grace James, a life-long resident. “I believe that.”

Editing by James B. Kelleher and Ellen Wulfhorst

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