Mississippi crests at hard-hit Mo., Ill. towns

June 22, 2008 1:40:21 PM PDT
The upper Mississippi River was expected to largely reach its high point Sunday, cresting at several spots north of St. Louis after rising for weeks and flooding towns in Missouri and Illinois. National Weather Service forecasters said the Mississippi would crest at points from Canton, Mo., not far from the Iowa state line, through the town of Clarksville farther down river, about 70 miles north of St. Louis.

At the last two gauges where the river was still rising - at hard-hit Winfield and Grafton, Ill. - the river was expected to crest Monday. It couldn't come soon enough in flooded Winfield, where the water topped one of the town's levees early Sunday.

Several miles down the river at Grafton, water spread deeper into the 650-resident village that's heavily dependent on tourism. The town's main road - the Great River Road - was impassible in some stretches, limiting access to businesses.

"Sunday is a big (business) day for Grafton, but just about every business is shut down," said Joe DeSherlia, owner of the Grafton Harbor. "Most of our businesses make their money in the summer, and that tides us over in the winter when there are no tourists.

"It could be a long, cold winter for us."

When the river does crest in Grafton on Monday, it's expected to do so at 29.5 feet - roughly 9 feet below the record set during the Great Flood of '93. At St. Louis, where the river reached crest levels on Saturday, it was more than 12 feet below the '93 record.

While not record setting, the devastation was still widespread: the storms and flooding that started in early June have forced thousands from their homes across six states, killing 24 and injuring roughly 150.

Rural areas such Lincoln County, Mo., suffered the worst. There, more than 300 homes were flooded after more than 90 percent of the county's levees were overtopped.

In Canton, hundreds of volunteers and National Guard members spent the past week using sandbags in a battle to spare that town's levee a similar fate. Volunteers were back out Sunday searching for leaks, but the earthen structure appeared to be holding up, said Monica Heaton, the city's emergency operations spokeswoman.

"Everything is in a wait-and-see mode," she said.

Light rain forecast Sunday in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois was not expected to worsen the flooding, said weather service meteorologist Ben Miller. Sporadic rainfall is expected throughout the week, he said, but it will be scattered and light and shouldn't increase the flooding hazard.

Miller said rivers will start to recede early this week after remaining at crest level for longer than initially expected. Because a series of levee breaches let water spread over a wide swath of land in Missouri and Illinois, Miller said, that water will take time to drain back into the river and flow downstream.

"You don't have as high a crest, but yet you still have higher levels for a long period had (the levees) not broken," Miller said.

Flooding remained moderate to minor in communities south of St. Louis. The Missouri River joins the Mississippi there but is running at normal levels.

"The river is able to handle the volume of water coming down the Mississippi better," Miller said.

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Associated Press writers Jim Suhr and Christopher Leonard contributed to this report from St. Louis.


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