Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - All along the levee, sightseers gathered by the dozens Sunday to catch a glimpse of just how swollen "Old Man River" has become.
Matt Brichetto and his father, Jeff Brichetto, ate po-boys on lawn chairs atop the levee at at Leake Road and South Carrollton Avenue as they marveled at the river.
"I just never seen so much water down here," said Jeff Brichetto. "I'm amazed at how fast the current's going and everything."
The water had risen so high in that area that a long stretch of land near the levee that's normally dry had several feet of water.
"I never knew it was this serious until I came out here and saw it," said Camille Barnett. "I hope it doesn't get too high. Looking at how fast the water's moving, I'm kind of freaked out, not going to lie, pretty freaked out."
Drawn to the river like moths to a flame, the historic river levels are leaving people awestruck.
"I didn't believe it was going to be this high, but when you come out here and look at it, it's like, 'Oh my gosh. Wow. I hope we're safe.' And that's the best thing we can ask for you know. I hope we're safe," said Cedric Ellsworth. "This is awesome, but it's a scary feeling that we get, post-Katrina, everyone's worried about is it going to flood us, is it not going to flood us?"
Eula Dubois celebrated her 75th birthday with her family along the riverfront near the French Quarter, where dozens of others also gazed at the Mighty Mississippi.
"I have never seen it [so high], uh-uh," said DuBois. "Long as I've been coming out here."
At the levee behind Audubon zoo, nicknamed "the fly," officials set up caution tape to keep people from getting too close.
But that didn't stop one man from jumping into the churning river Sunday afternoon. He was able to swim to shore, when an officer quickly showed that dangerous moves aren't taken lightly, putting him under arrest.
For many others the height of the river is a reminder of the power of Mother Nature. Many expressed a feeling of both awe and fear.
"The strength that there is there, the force that's behind the water, and the harm that it could do if it weren't controlled, if it were out of control, you know, out of the banks of the river, it's scary," said one observer.
"It's dangerous, but it draws you out here, you know. It's part of New Orleans," said Cedric Ellsworth. "I'm sorry, it's just tremendous the way it's flowing right now, you know."
Because the Morganza Spillway has been opened, the river in New Orleans is not expected to get much higher than its current level.
Officials are warning people not to get too close to the swollen river, and they're asking people not to drive on the levees.