Mississippi gov's office: Estimated ag losses $250M

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Officials say flooding in Mississippi could have caused more than $250 million in damages to agriculture.

Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Gov. Haley Barbour, stressed that the figure was only an estimate because thousands of acres are still flooded and that makes it hard to come up with solid information. She said officials estimate that 450,000 acres of cropland could have been destroyed.

Hipp said there's no official estimate yet for damages to homes and other structures.

Some of the fields that flooded were winter wheat, which was heartbreaking for farmers to lose because it was just days or weeks from being ready to harvest. The flood also swamped other crops like corn, and flooded catfish farms.

Agriculture officials had initially feared the flood would impact as much as 600,000 acres of row crops and a total of 1.4 million acres of land in Mississippi, said Andy Prosser, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture.

"I do believe that those numbers are going to come down, but we won't know that until the water comes down," Prosser said Wednesday.

Prosser said the extent of damage to crops and timber depends on the type and the length of time it was underwater.

Roger Barlow, executive vice president of Catfish Farmers of America, says it could take up to a month to determine damages to his industry.

Mississippi's casino industry also took a hit when most of the barges on the Mississippi River were forced to close. Most have reopened.

Jill Alexander, a spokeswoman for Isle of Capri Casino, said one of the company's casino barges in Lula is scheduled to reopen Friday. Isle of Capris' other gambling barge in Lula will remain closed for repairs.

In another sign of progress, the Mississippi Department of Transportation said recent inspections have shown that U.S. Highway 61 South at the Big Black River can be opened to traffic Friday.

Water inside pavement in the northbound lane near the bridge over the Big Black River, the border between Warren and Claiborne counties, has prolonged detours to Port Gibson and points south.

U.S. 61 North at Redwood was reopened Wednesday after MDOT inspectors deemed that foundation sufficient. Ten miles of Mississippi 465 between U.S. 61 North and Eagle Lake and 2 miles of Mississippi 16 at Mississippi 149 remain off limits to traffic, probably until the middle of the month, officials have said.

The Mississippi River was 51.68 feet at Vicksburg on Thursday, down six-tenths of a foot from Wednesday. Levels have fallen about half a foot a day for a week.

North of Vicksburg, the river has recorded slight rises, but the National Weather Service said Vicksburg and other points south are not expected to record rises before the river falls below flood stage.

In Memphis, where the year's high crest on May 10 was 48 feet, 14 feet above flood stage, another crest is expected Tuesday. It is forecast for 31 feet, 3 feet below flood stage.

Downriver, including at Vicksburg, stages aren't expected to drop below flood stage until mid-June.

"We're not going to get a second crest around here," said Marty Pope, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson. "We'll continue to see it falling out, with less flows coming in from the Upper Mississippi than thought."

___

Some information from: Vicksburg Post, http://www.vicksburgpost.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

 


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