Rising Mississippi causes some towns to prepare for flooding

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 | 5:30 p.m. CDT; updated 12:50 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The fast-rising Mississippi River forced closure of a St. Louis casino on Wednesday and prompted sandbagging efforts in communities preparing for near-historic crests.

The President Casino closed its doors as the boulevard that provides access to the boat was shut down because of flooding. It wasn’t clear when the casino would reopen. The city’s newest and much larger casino, Lumiere Place, sits on higher ground slightly away from the river and remains open.

The river is already a few feet above flood stage and rising in the Missouri towns of Canton, La Grange, Hannibal, Louisiana, Clarksville, Winfield and St. Louis, and in Illinois towns that include Quincy, Grafton, Alton and Chester.

Crests of 12 feet above flood stage and higher are projected at some locations starting next week. In some cases, crests will reach within 3 to 4 feet of records set in 1993.

Several towns already have begun sandbagging in preparation, and some residents are moving to higher ground.

With more heavy rain in the forecast in Iowa through Wednesday night, National Weather Service hydrologist Jim Kramper said crests in Missouri could go even higher. Or, the river could crest, fall a bit, then rise to a new heights later this month.

“It’s when the rain falls upstream that it’s a bigger impact on you,” Kramper said. “As this new batch of water comes down, the river could start creeping up again.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it planned to close locks near the Illinois towns of Illinois City, New Boston and Gladstone on Thursday; at Canton, Mo., on Friday; and at Keokuk, Iowa, Quincy, Ill., and Saverton, Mo., on Saturday.

The agency said it plans to close locks at Clarksville and Winfield on Monday and Tuesday. The Corps of Engineers said locks must be closed to remove and store electric motors that move lock gates and culvert valves.

Gov. Matt Blunt said his office and the State Emergency Management Agency were monitoring the rising rivers and creeks around the state. SEMA spokeswoman Susie Stoner said some communities have requested sandbags, but no significant damage has been reported.

Stoner said the unusually wet spring that began with torrential March rains has never eased up.

“We have rivers that have been at flood stage since March,” she said.

Still, Stoner doesn’t expect nearly the impact of what’s still referred to as the Great Flood of 1993.

“We’ve done a lot of buyouts in the past so some of the areas that flood — the people aren’t there anymore,” she said.

In La Grange, a town of 1,000 residents in far northeast Missouri, city administrator Mark Campbell said 20,000 sandbags have been brought in to help the community try to stave off the river. La Grange is not protected by a levee. If the flood crests nearly 12 feet above flood stage as predicted, the homes of about 40 residents will be affected, and several downtown businesses will be forced to close or temporarily relocate.

Shelters may be set up at churches or at Culver-Stockton College in nearby Canton, Campbell said. The section of U.S. 61 that runs through town is expected to close on Saturday.

“People know it’s coming,” Campbell said. “With this one, they’re taking it more seriously.”

Minor to moderate flooding is affecting some Missouri River towns, but no major problems are expected.

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