Illinois, Missouri Residents Prepare for Floods with Sandbags, Sweat

June 19, 2008

Hundreds of volunteers stacked sandbags atop a levee in small Missouri towns on the evening of June 18, hoping the extra few feet of protection would save the town from record-level flood crests expected to hit this week. National Guardsmen, local residents, state prisoners and Amish families worked side by side as the swift Mississippi River current lapped near the top of the earthen wall.

“Everyone just comes together and gets the job done. That’s how we do it in Lewis County,” said 31-year-old Canton, Mo. resident John Campen. While he expected the town to pull together, he was surprised by the crowds that have come from elsewhere.

However, a record seven levees broke late Wednesday, June 18 between St. Louis and the Iowa border, creating hazardous travel, shutting down roads and flooding small towns, according to an account in the Chicago Tribune. The news account said that at the Meyer Lock and Dam in Illinois broke and nearly 400 foot section was washed away after midnight. Miles south a bigger chunk of the Indian Graves levee is also gone. On the Missouri side charming little towns like Clarksville and historic towns like Hannibal are preparing to fight off the water.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” Hannibal Deputy Police Chief Lt. James Hark said. “The river has dropped a tad because of levee breaks north of us.”

The river at Hannibal is projected to crest at 31.8 feet at 1 p.m. Friday, June 20 which would match the old record set in 1993.

Canton and other towns along the Mississippi River are bracing for flood crests expected to match or exceed levels not seen since the devastating floods of 1993. The National Weather Service predicted earlier this week the flooding might not break records set 15 years ago. But as tributaries in rain-soaked Iowa continue to swell the muddy river, the estimates have been revised upward.

“This new forecast brings (new) records into possibility,” said meteorologist Mark Fuchs.

In towns like La Grange, located just a few miles down river from Canton, the damage has already been extensive. Most of Main Street was submerged by the afternoon of June 18, even as waters continued to rise.

In Illinois, 1,100 National Guard members have been sent in the flooded areas along the Mississippi.

Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder said nearly 500 National Guard members will have been deployed to flood-stricken communities in northeast Missouri. The Missouri Department of Corrections has dispatched 186 offenders to help fortify sandbags in Clarksville, Canton, Louisiana and Marion County.

In Canton, flood waters are expected to crest today, Thursday, June 19 at 27.7 feet, well above the 24.5 feet for which the city’s levee is designed, said emergency management director Jeff McReynolds. The levee has a 3-foot extension and volunteers have added 2 feet on top of that.

Flood waters weren’t expected to crest until Saturday, June 21 in towns further south, such as the artists’ colony of Clarksville. The picturesque, red-brick town’s antique mall and restaurants were surrounded by floodwaters as National Guard members and volunteers built a massive sandbag wall, at places 12 feet wide and 8 feet tall.

Associated Press reporters Cheryl Wittenauer in St. Louis and Betsy Taylor in Clarksville and Chicago Tribune writers Jeffry Meiltrodt and Tim Jones contributed to this report.

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