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UN agency urges help for migrants in Mediterranean

PARIS — The U.N. refugee agency has urged the crews of ships in the Mediterranean to keep watch for unseaworthy vessels carrying migrants from war-torn Libya after a report that a ship with 600 people on board broke up just off the port of Tripoli on Friday.

Witnesses in Tripoli said the ship was only 100 yards from shore when it broke up, Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based organization, said Monday.

“It’s not clear how many people died or drowned,” she said, but 16 bodies — including those of two babies — had been recovered.

Refugees who left on another vessel later Friday said they saw bodies and pieces of a ship floating in the water, said Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman in Italy for the agency, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Wilkes said there had been a “dramatic increase in the number of boats making this terrible journey,” as migrants, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to flee Libya’s turmoil, heading for sanctuary on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

—Alan Cowell and Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times

With Mississippi River on rise, Memphis residents told to go

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Mississippi River was approaching levels it has not reached in over 70 years as it rolled through here on Monday, attracting a festive crowd of spectators to its banks but also sending residents from their homes in some parts of the city as the river shoved its tributaries aside to make way.

By Tuesday morning, the river is expected to reach 48 feet, 14 feet above flood stage, said Susan Buchanan of the National Weather Service. It is expected stay at or near that level for several days before receding as the crest moves downriver.

Despite the parade-like atmosphere along the Memphis riverfront, county officials urged residents to take caution, offering the same advice one might give in the presence of a mad dog: Keep your distance until it moves on.

“There is a lot of fascination with the mighty Mississippi, but it’s a river in rage right now,” Bob Nations, the director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, said at a Monday afternoon briefing. “It’s a love-hate relationship we have with it.”

Nations emphasized that the real flooding concern was not necessarily with the Mississippi itself but with tributaries like the Wolf and Loosahatchie rivers that feed into it. The levees along the river itself were holding up, officials from the Army Corps of Engineers said on Monday.

But the tributaries and creeks, deluged with backwater flowing from the Mississippi, are escaping their banks in suburbs and mobile home parks in Memphis and surrounding Shelby County.

—Judith Tackett and Campbell Robertson, The New York Times