JACKSON, Miss. – The Pearl River is expected to rise to historic levels this weekend, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes and shutting down roads around Jackson.
The river level by 11 a.m. Friday stood at 35.32 feet, more than 7 feet above flood stage. It’s expected to crest at 38 feet this weekend, or 2 feet above what’s considered a major flood stage.
The Pearl River, which meanders through residential and business areas near Jackson, may reach a level not seen in more than four decades, forecasters said. So Leti Vargas enlisted help from relatives to clear appliances from her double-wide in the Harbor Pines Mobile Home Community.
“I’ve worked too hard to purchase these, and I don’t want them destroyed,” said Vargas, 50.
Nearby, Donna and Mark Harvey put blocks under big items like furniture and left with what they could carry ahead of the rising water.
“Can you imagine we left Florida to come here and get washed out? People warned us about hurricanes in Florida and it’s the rains that wash us out,” said Donna Harvey.
Marty Pope, service hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said an unanticipated 1 inch to 3 inches of rain fell to the north of Jackson on Wednesday and Thursday, spilling into the Pearl. Forecasters had predicted about half an inch.
Pope notes that as soon as the river crests above 36.30 feet, it will have reached the third highest level since river levels began being recorded in the 1900s.
The river rose to an all-time high during the Easter Flood in 1979, when about 10 inches of rain over a short period of time led to a flood stage of 43.28 feet.
More than 17,000 Jackson-area residents were forced from their homes. The flood was among the most costly and devastating to ever occur in Mississippi, resulting in about $700 million in damages.
In the flood of 1983, the Pearl rose to 39.58 feet.
The Barnett Reservoir continues to pool water to limit the amount that flows downstream into the Pearl but it is at a dangerous level, Pope said.
This weekend, the water overflowing the banks is expected to reach thousands of homes, officials said.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on Thursday estimated about about 1,925 structures in HInds County will be affected by flooding, 461 structures in Rankin County and about 31 structures in Madison County.
The city of Jackson, meanwhile, predicted about 940 structures will be affected across the city. A majority of those homes and businesses are in Northeast Jackson near the river. That number represents apartment complexes as well, said Hinds County Emergency Management Director, Ricky Moore. About 540 individual homes and businesses could see flooding, he said.
The rise in the Pearl has prompted emergency declarations from several area governments, including the city of Jackson, Hinds County and the city of Richland.
Jackson and Hind County’s declarations come on the heels of flooding less than a month ago.
Jackson had three separate flash floods in January, the result of the second-highest amount of rainfall for the region in more than 100 years, according to the NWS.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Justin Vicory on Twitter: @justinvicory.