Mississippi River expected to rapidly rise as dam threatens to fail

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(CNN) — Authorities have activated an “emergency watch” and closed the gates of the Steele Bayou control structure Tuesday as high-water forecasts threaten the Mississippi River.

“We are currently experiencing higher-than-normal water stages across the region. We’ve activated our Emergency Operations Center to monitor the forecasted flows and its impacts on our infrastructure,” said Vicksburg District Commander Col. Robert Hilliard. “The district has begun and will continue to work with its local, state and federal partners.”

According to National Weather Service forecasts, the Mississippi River is expected to reach flood stage at the Arkansas City, Arkansas, and Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi, gages by mid-January.

Extensive rain has extended flood warnings down the banks of the river about 700 miles. Daily rainfall records were broken Tuesday in Jackson, Meridian and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Jackson saw 4.5 inches, breaking the previous record of 1.48, Meridian had 2.06 inches breaking a 1.13 inch record and Vicksburg received 3.5 inches of rain after a .94 inch record.

The Oktibbeha County Lake Dam in eastern Mississippi is in imminent danger of failing and officials are warning residents to be ready to leave, county emergency management Director Kristen Campanella said Tuesday.

Conditions at the dam, 100 miles northeast of Jackson, had worsened by an 11 a.m. (12 p.m. ET) inspection.

“There is a high probability of failure,” the National Weather Service office in Jackson said.

The alert for residents is at the warning level, Campanella said; if it gets to the emergency level, authorities would order evacuations.

If the dam breaks, about 250 people would have to evacuate and more than 17,000 acres could be flooded, Campanella told The Dispatch newspaper of Starkville in September.

Campanella said that every time it rains they watch the dam, which is in need of repairs that the county has not been able to secure funds for the past several years.

Oktibbeha County District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard told The Dispatch a project to fix the problem could cost up to $8 million.

Officials are expecting half an inch or more of rain Tuesday and possibly Wednesday, Campanella said.

The weather service in Jackson said there is a flash flood emergency for northern Okitbbeha County and south central Clay County.

It urged people to move to higher ground.

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