New Orleans, La. – John Barry knows what damage is possible from a raging Mississippi River. His book "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America" details the destruction of levee breaks.
"Frankly it makes me a little nervous to see this much water in the river. Maybe because I know the power in the river."
Barry says water levels haven't been so high since 1927, when flooding covered 23,000 square miles. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and about 250 people were killed. The government's fractured response changed the nation's political landscape. So what's his view of the current situation?
"There will be flooding. You know, there will be a lot of backwater flooding going up rivers that are normally tributaries. They won't be able to empty into the Mississippi, and some Mississippi water will go back up those streams."
The good news is that the levee system built after 1927 should be able to handle the pressure.
"New Orleans is probably the safest place on the entire lower Mississippi River because of all the floodways above us that will be opened."
The bad news is the pressure doesn't let up on the levees immediately when the water levels drop.
"They're completely saturated and they've had all this weight of the water leaning against them, and then all of a sudden that weight disappears, and it's just as if you're leaning against somebody and they go away and you kind of slip. And, you now, that's the same kind of force is at work in a levee."
Barry says levees will be closely monitored before and after high water passes by. In New Orleans, the river is expected to crest May 24th.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming