MEMPHIS, Tennessee — In a Memphis neighborhood that already lost three houses to a slowly swelling river that threatens to consume many more, an unexpected smell carried for blocks: barbecue.
With the Mississippi just feet from her single-story home, Shirley Woods had the grill going in the backyard Sunday, cooking ribs, pork chops, chicken and hot dogs. She was getting ready to make potato salad.
When she woke up at first light, she was prepared to leave if the Mississippi had gotten high enough, but she decided she had time to at least celebrate Mother’s Day here with relatives.
“I’ll give it another day, and if it comes up much higher, we’re getting out of here,” Woods said.
Memphis residents have been abandoning low-lying homes for days as the dangerously surging river threatened to crest at 48 feet (14.63 meters), just shy of the 48.7-foot (14.84-meter) record, set by a devastating 1937 flood.
Officials went door-to-door Sunday, warning about 240 people to get out before the river reaches its expected peak Tuesday. In all, residents in more than 1,300 homes have been told to go, and some 370 people were staying in shelters.
But the slow pace of the river crest meant that Woods and others could cling to their normal lives a bit longer before having to move into relatives’ homes or shelters.
And while some evacuated their homes, others came as spectators. At Beale Street, the famous thoroughfare known for blues, dozens gawked and snapped photos as water pooled at the end of the road. Traffic was heavy downtown on a day the streets would normally be quiet.
The river is “probably the biggest tourist attraction in Memphis,” said Scott Umstead, who made the half-hour drive from Collierville with his wife and their three children.
Flood waters were about a half-mile (800 meters) from the street’s world-famous nightspots, which are on higher ground.
The river already reached record levels in some areas upstream, thanks to heavy rains and snowmelt. It spared Kentucky and northwest Tennessee any catastrophic flooding and no deaths have been reported there, but some low lying towns and farmland along the banks of the river have been inundated.