Missouri communities prepare for river flooding

Thursday, June 12, 2008 | 7:29 p.m. CDT; updated 11:00 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
William Kimpton, left, and Ben Walker wade through floodwaters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Thursday afternoon. Three-thousand-nine-hundred homes were evacuated from Cedar Rapids, where rescuers removed people with boats. Officials estimated 100 blocks were underwater, and a railroad bridge over the flooded Cedar River collapsed.

ST. LOUIS — With tools as old-fashioned as elbow grease and as novel as newly posted Web pages, communities in Missouri prepared Thursday for projected river flooding in upcoming days.

The Missouri River was expected to crest in northwest Missouri this weekend, but more concern was focused on the Mississippi River, where more significant flooding was expected in northeast Missouri the middle of next week.


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“We definitely need volunteers,” said Jeff McReynolds, emergency management director for Canton, a city of about 2,500 residents located along the Mississippi in northeast Missouri.

He said Canton has a 3-mile earthen levee around the community, and about 100 volunteers were already working to construct a wooden frame at the levee, wrap it in plastic and begin backing it up with sandbags. They hoped to place perhaps 800,000 sandbags before next Wednesday when the river is expected to crest at more than 26 feet, about 12 feet above flood stage.

“Our current plan of attack is to raise the levee about 2½ feet with sandbags and batterboards,” he said. Volunteers were being checked in near the site of an old grocery store in town.

Canton, along with some other Missouri communities, was also posting Internet updates to keep residents informed.

In St. Joseph, a city of about 74,000 residents in northwest Missouri along the Missouri River, about seven to nine homeowners were voluntarily evacuated in recent days. Roughly 4,000 sandbags had been filled, but not placed around the city, and the community has the capacity to fill about 75,000 sandbags if needed.

“It’s a little edgy, but nothing that would require immediate action,” said Mary Robertson, communications manager for the city.

Flood stage in St. Joseph is 17 feet, and the Missouri River was expected to crest there Saturday morning at 26.5 feet. She said the city closely monitors the river when it’s at that height but said the river must reach about 29 feet to lead to significant problems. It’s not predicted to get that high.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began closing several locks on the Mississippi River. Lock 16 at Muscatine, Iowa, was to close Thursday, to be followed by others in coming days that stretch roughly 220 miles south along the river, ending at Lock 25 at Winfield on Monday.

“We have to protect large electric motors and other electric components. As you know, that stuff doesn’t play well with water,” said Alan Dooley, a spokesman for the corps office in St. Louis.

He said the motors move large gates or open and close valves that allow water to flow in and out of the locks. He noted the corps only closes the locks, not the river itself, but said, “As the locks are closing from the north to the south, you lose the ability to navigate the river.”

Jim Kramper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Weldon Spring, said parts of northern Iowa and Wisconsin received up to 10 inches of rain late last week.

“A lot of that rainfall was the trigger for what we’re seeing now,” he said.

He said rivers are full from the wet winter and early spring. A slow moving system will travel through the Midwest, with 1 to 4 inches of rain predicted through Saturday, he said.

“Two inches of rain shouldn’t cause rivers to jump,” he said, “but it isn’t going to help.”

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