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Floods put Mississippi capital in 'precarious situation'

With the waters in the Pearl River continuing to rise in and around Mississippi's capital city and more rain on the way this week, the governor warned residents that it would be days before flood waters start to recede.

Gov. Tate Reeves said Sunday morning that the Pearl would continue to rise throughout the day, and he warned that the state faces a “precarious situation that can turn at any moment.”

In one Jackson neighborhood, residents paddled canoes, kayaks and small fishing boats to check on their houses, giving lifts to other neighbors. Some were able to get inside while others peeked into the windows to see what, if any damage, had been done inside. Outside floodwaters lapped at mailboxes, street signs and cars that had been left in driveways.

In a bit of good news, officials at a reservoir upriver of the capitol said Sunday that water levels in the reservoir had stabilized, allowing them to send less water downriver. The National Weather Service, which had been anticipating the river would crest Sunday at 38 feet, on Sunday slightly reduced that to 37.5 feet. The river is now anticipated to crest Monday.

But even with that development, officials urged residents to pay attention to evacuation orders, check on road closures before traveling and stay out of floodwaters, warning that even seemingly placid waters could mask fast-moving currents and pollution. Law enforcement officials went door to door in affected areas, telling people to evacuate, Reeves said.

Rescuers performed four assisted evacuations Saturday, although they said none were needed overnight.

“We expect the river to continue to rise over the next 24 hours or so, “ Reeves said at a news conference in Jackson. “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba said power had been shut off to 504 residences as a safety precaution. He said some city homes had been flooded but officials do not yet know how many. About 30 people are at a shelter that has been set up in Jackson, he said.

Nearly 2,400 structures across the three counties closest to the river and the reservoir — Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties — could be impacted, meaning they either get water inside or are surrounded by water, said Malary White, of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

In the suburb of Flowood, John and Jina Smith had packed up as much as they could and left their home as waters rose Thursday.

On Sunday, their neighbor Dale Frazier took them back to their house in a rowboat, where they checked on the damage, then got in their own canoe and rowed away.

“We’ve been able to stay in here when the water gets up," John Smith said. “But as you’ve watched it over the years, you know when to get out. It’s time to get out this time.”

A foot and a half of water was inside his house, Smith said. He'd already been in touch with a contractor and insurance agent about rebuilding. Both he and his wife said they love their home, where they can sit on their back porch and watch deer and other wildlife.

”It’s going to take a while for us to rebuild, but we are safe, and we’re all OK," Jina Smith said.

On Frazier's lot next door, the water was at the bottom of the driveway but had not crept inside the one-story house where he's lived for 23 years.

“The water is very close to my house. It could flood; it could not flood. It depends on the crest right now,” he said.

Down the street, a Presbyterian church and several businesses were flooded.

While the focus now is on the Jackson area, the heavy rains and flooding has affected a much larger swathe of the state. State emergency management officials said Sunday that they had received preliminary damage reports from 11 counties connected with the severe weather that hit the state starting on Feb. 10.

The Pearl's highest recorded crest was 43.2 feet on April 17, 1979. The second-highest level occurred May 5, 1983, when the river rose to 39.58 feet.

On Saturday night, officials released water from the nearby Barnett Reservoir to control its levels. They urged residents in northeastern Jackson who live in the flood zone downstream from the reservoir to leave immediately. By Sunday morning, Reeves said the reservoir's inflow and outflow had equalized.

Reservoir officials said that allowed them to release less water than expected.

“We have some good news today," said John G. Sigman, who oversees the reservoir's operations, during a separate news conference Sunday afternoon.

Once the river crests Monday, it will take the water three to four days to go down significantly. Part of the reason is that forecasters expect more rain between midday Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

”It will be days before we are out of the woods and waters start to recede,” the governor said.

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This version corrects the name of the reservoir. It is the Barnett Reservoir, not the Ross Barnette Reservoir.

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Santana reported from New Orleans.