VICKSBURG, Miss. - The Mississippi River crested at more than 14 feet above flood stage in Vicksburg on Thursday, a slightly lower level than expected, easing worries about water potentially spilling over a nearby levee and inundating thousands more acres of farmland.
But officials warned that the flood was by no means over. The river was expected to stay at its crest for several days before beginning a slow retreat. It could remain above flood stage until mid-June.
"The crest is by no means the end of it," said Col. Jeffrey R. Eckstein, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Vicksburg District.
Authorities had been worried that water might spill over the Yazoo Backwater Levee north of Vicksburg. But because the water was not expected to rise higher, they did not expect to evacuate more people. About 2,000 city residents have been forced from their homes.
Also Thursday, authorities reported the first death attributed to the Mississippi floodwaters since the mighty river began climbing out of its banks last month in the Midwest - a 69-year-old man who apparently collapsed in the high water.
Walter Cook was pulled from the water Tuesday by two firefighters on boat patrol in downtown Vicksburg.
At least eight deaths in Arkansas have been attributed to flooding, but all of those happened in flash floods or Mississippi tributaries.
In Port Gibson, a community that Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant reportedly said was "too beautiful to burn," few people could have been happier than Eddie Simmons to hear about the crest just north in Vicksburg.
Simmons, a retired logger, is recovering from hip-replacement surgery and can barely leave his bed.
He has stayed in his home despite water swamping his front yard and creeping beneath his house.
Lying in bed Thursday, Simmons was confident his house would survive now that the river had done its worst.
"It's God's work. You've got to deal with him. You can run to high ground, but if God wants to come there, he can come there. You might as well stay put."
This year's flooding has tested the limits of Mississippi's $13 billion levee system as the river rose to levels not seen since the 1920s in some places.
In Louisiana, the Army Corps began opening the Morganza spillway over the weekend as part of a plan to protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans from the river. That move intentionally flooded part of Cajun country, including areas that rely on the fish and oil industries.
As it passes through the Morganza floodgates, the water pours down a 20-mile spillway and into the Atchafalaya River. Homes along the river above the oil-and-seafood hub of Morgan City, La., will be vulnerable to flooding for at least another week.