By Leigh Coleman
BILOXI, Miss (Reuters) - Mississippi residents should prepare for major flooding along the Mississippi River, Governor Haley Barbour said on Thursday.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency expects the river to reach its flood stage this weekend and continue to rise over the coming two weeks.
"This is one disaster we can prepare for ahead of time," Barbour said during a press conference.
"Anyone living or owning property in the affected area needs to take this situation seriously and move any property to higher ground."
The floods would be the latest natural disaster to strike the Southeast, already reeling from tornadoes and violent storms that killed more than 280 people this week, including at least 32 in Mississippi.
The Mississippi River is predicted to rise almost three feet higher than it did during severe flooding in 2008, when local levees failed after months of rain and many homes were ruined by water damage.
The river is forecast to initially crest in the northwest corner of the state at Tunica on May 12. Cresting will then occur southward along the cities of Bolivar, Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez, according to emergency management officials.
"I am scared to death," said Choctaw, Mississippi, resident Bill Wheeler on Thursday. "The water is already rising, and I live very close to the river. I may lose everything."
Barbour said residents should review their flood insurance policies with their insurance agents and move important property to safer locations.
Casinos in the resort town of Tunica, Mississippi, are temporarily closing as a precaution against rising waters.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered an indefinite shuttering of the town's nine casinos and 5,000 hotel rooms, beginning Thursday afternoon.
One tourism expert said the state's economy will take a hit from the closings.
"Tunica is an economic engine for the state," said Pat Meecham, a retired tourism official in Tunica. "Mess with that and you mess with the entire economic scope. It will take time to bounce back."
(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton)