The Mississippi crept toward the highest level ever in the river city Monday, flooding pockets of low-lying neighborhoods and forcing hundreds from their homes, though the water was not threatening the music heartland’s most recognizable landmarks, from Graceland to Beale Street.
As residents waited for the river to reach its peak as early as Monday night — several inches short of the record mark set in 1937 — those downstream in Mississippi and Louisiana evacuated prisoners and diverted water from the river in an attempt to stave off catastrophic flooding in a region prone to such disasters.
In Memphis, emergency officials warned the river was still dangerous and unpredictable, but they were confident the levees would hold and there were no plans for more evacuations. Sandbags were put up in front of the 32-story tall Pyramid Arena, but the former home of college and professional basketball teams was believed to be safe. Also out of the way were Stax Records, which launched the careers of Otis Redding and the Staple Singers, and Sun Studio, which helped make Elvis the king of rock ‘n’ roll.
Sun Studio still does some recording, but Stax is now a museum and tourist attraction. Graceland, which is several miles south of downtown, was also spared.
“I want to say this: Graceland is safe. And we would charge hell with a water pistol to keep it that way and I’d be willing to lead the charge,” said Bob Nations Jr., director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency.