MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority said Thursday that rivers in its vast network of waterways are starting to recede, but flood-stricken residents shouldn't exhale just yet as officials continue to release water from dams amid forecasts of more rain.
TVA River Forecast Center manager James Everett said river levels have slowly begun to fall in northern Alabama and western Tennessee after 10 to 13 inches (25-33 centimeters) of rain in February — two to three times the normal rainfall for the month.
The drenching led to flooding of homes, roads, businesses and farms in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. The rain-saturated ground and bulging rivers have prompted water rescues and triggered landslides and sinkholes.
Everett said flooded areas along the Tennessee River, such as Whitesburg and Florence in Alabama and Savannah and Perryville in Tennessee, are seeing water slowly recede after rivers crested. Yet many rivers remain above flood stage. TVA says flows on the lower Tennessee River, particularly around Pickwick Reservoir, have been the highest since a 1973 flood.
Officials said recovery could take weeks. Everett said the TVA will continue to release water from its full lakes and reservoirs and into spillways. And, a half-inch to 2 inches of rain could fall in the Tennessee River Valley in the next four days, forecasters said.
"We're finally getting some relief from the high water, but still aggressively moving a lot of water through the system just because we've got very high pool levels in all of our lakes," Everett said.
TVA estimates that its flood control activities averted $1.6 billion in flood damages along the Tennessee River system, officials said. Still, the flooding has displaced residents who live near the Tennessee River and its tributaries. Many riverside buildings are swamped, and drinking water has been cut off in some areas. Farmers have experienced livestock and crop losses.
The Jackson Sun reports Hardin County Mayor Kevin Davis declared a state of emergency in the rural Tennessee county. Many of the flooded homes were weekend homes, but Hardin County Fire Chief and emergency management director Melvin Martin estimated at least 100 permanent residents may have been affected.
A Red Cross shelter has been set up at a church in low-lying Savannah, Tennessee, where a handful of people have been staying overnight. Another 70 to 100 people have been eating meals at the shelter, with local restaurants providing chicken and hamburgers, David Hicks, executive director of the Red Cross' mid-west Tennessee chapter, told The Associated Press.
The shelter is expected to stay open through the weekend and perhaps into next week, Hicks said. But he's heard of displaced residents sleeping in cars or staying in hotel rooms, rather than heading to the shelter.
"That's disappointing because we want to make sure they have a great opportunity through our local sheltering," Hicks said.
Cleanup has begun throughout areas the South affected by the floods, including in Lowndes County, Mississippi. Christy Tracey tells WCBI-TV that high water kept her from going to work and prevented her children from attending school.
"It's been hard," she said. "We've had to just make do with the things that we had, not being able to go to the store and buy things that you would normally have."
A Red Cross shelter also opened in Paducah, Kentucky, where the Ohio River is high and floodgates have been installed.
On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency because of the threat of flooding along the Mississippi River and elsewhere in his state. The emergency declaration runs until March 27 and allows the state's emergency preparedness office to help local agencies with flood response efforts.