End is near to Mississippi River rise

June 23, 2008 7:41:36 AM PDT
The water is still well above the banks of the upper Mississippi River, but residents of both flooded towns and those protected by levees and sandbags can see an ending: The river is cresting. "It's quieter compared to earlier this week," said Louisiana emergency management director Mike Lesley, where sandbagging has largely ceased. This past weekend, he said, "I actually got some sleep."

The river started cresting Sunday at Canton, Mo., not far from the Iowa state line, through the lock and dam near Quincy, Ill. Next up, according to federal forecasters, were crests expected Monday from Hannibal to Clarksville. In Mark Twain's hometown, Hannibal emergency management director John Hark said he was confident the town's levees would hold as the river begins to recede.

Folks in Winfield and Grafton, Ill., will have to wait a little longer, as forecasters said the river would crest there on Wednesday. A reminder the threat had not passed came Sunday in Lincoln County, Mo., where a levee near Winfield overtopped and flooded about 1,000 acres and fewer than half a dozen homes.

"It just blew through our sandbags," said Lincoln County emergency management spokesman Andy Binder. But he, too, was confident the secondary levees protecting Winfield and nearby Elsberry would hold.

Farther down river, the river dropped a bit Sunday below crest level from Alton, Ill., through St. Louis and down to Chester, Ill. The Mississippi was expected to rise again to crest level by Wednesday, but to levels still well off the records set during the Great Flood of '93. About 80 miles south of St. Louis at Chester, the river was forecast to rise to about 10 feet above flood stage, which is more than 10 feet lower than the record.

Still, the devastation is 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 as Lincoln County 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 along the earthen structure that appeared to be holding up, said Monica Heaton, the city's emergency operations spokeswoman.

"Everything is in a wait and see mode," she said. Sporadic rains expected throughout the week in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois will be scattered and light and shouldn't increase the flooding hazard, said National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Miller.

Miller said the river will start to recede after remaining at crest level for longer than initially expected. A series of levee breaches let flood waters spread over a wide swath of land in Missouri and Illinois, and 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.


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