Mississippi officials expressed cautious optimism on Monday as they announced the swollen Pearl River had crested at a height lower than initially feared.
The crest came after what Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves called a "long weekend" due to rising floodwaters and additional evacuations throughout the waterlogged capital city of Jackson and broader central Mississippi area.
The river, which reached major flood stage over the weekend, crested near Jackson on Monday at around 36.67 feet, down slightly from a projected crest height of 38 feet, according to the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District. Still, a 38-foot water height was reported along the river in the area of Highway 25 north to the Barnett Reservoir dam.
Officials with the reservoir said efforts began Monday morning to reduce outflows through the dam.
John Sigman, general manager of the Pearl River Water Supply District, said water levels at the 33,000-acre lake had dropped below 298 feet Monday morning. A discharge of 75,000 cubic feet per second was instituted during the overnight hours, but that had dropped to 70,265 at 9:15 a.m. local time. Another reduction was scheduled for Monday evening.
"We still need to create storage space in the lake for the rain in the forecast for this week and balance that with the flood concerns downstream. The good news is that inflows into the lake are falling and will fall very rapidly going forward," Sigman said in a statement.
Authorities have been going door-to-door in the hardest-hit areas to tell people to evacuate. Local law enforcement conducted another 16 assisted evacuations on Monday.
The record crest for the Pearl River is 43.28 feet, set in 1979. The river has topped 36 feet only seven times and not once since 1983, but that changed on Saturday night as the water level rose above 36 feet for the eighth time.
Reeves issued a state of emergency declaration on Saturday to deploy the necessary resources to help those impacted.
"This is a historic, unprecedented flood," Reeves said on Twitter over the weekend.
More rain is in the forecast this week, as persistent rounds of storms take aim at the South.
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said that even though more storms are expected this week, rainfall is not likely to be as intense as that of recent systems.
"Rainfall totals for all of this week may be in the neighborhood of 1-5 inches," Sosnowski said. "The past 10 days have brought 5-7 inches of rain in the area. The next big, single rain event may hold off until late-February."
Even with the additional rain in the forecast, officials said they expect river levels in the area to recede rapidly in the coming days. But Reeves warned that this is not the time for residents to rush back to their homes.
"Please do not move back into your neighborhood, or into your home until authorities and officials give you the OK to do so," he said.
As the week progresses, the flood threat is expected to focus on areas farther downstream, which includes the city of Columbia in Marion County. Current forecasts show the river reaching moderate flood stage and cresting at around 24 feet on Friday.
"We as a state are not in the clear yet," Reeves said, adding that government officials were working to prepare a response to deliver immediate aid for cities and counties depending on what the river does in the next couple of days.
There have been no reports of injuries at this time, officials said at the press conference, but Greg Michel, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) said they expect the number of damaged homes to be in the "hundreds" and possibly near a thousand. A more detailed damage estimate was expected later in the week as authorities begin the recovery phase after the floodwaters diminish.
Michel credited residents in the evacuation areas for following orders and not jeopardizing the lives of first responders.
Over 156,000 sandbags have been distributed throughout the area and the Jackson Police Training Academy, which was being used as a temporary shelter, still had space for those who needed to evacuate, according to Reeves.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) said crews continued to monitor and address flood-related issues across the state. A stretch of Interstate 55 that had been closed was reopened Sunday after a drop in water levels.
Road closure equipment will remain on shoulders until the flood threat is over, and MDOT crews staged dynamic message boards to alert motorists of road conditions.
"MDOT crews will continue working around the clock to monitor flood conditions and respond as needed until roadways are clear for travel," said central transportation commissioner Willie Simmons.
AccuWeather Staff Writer Mark Puleo contributed reporting.