Northeast Missouri prepares for flooding

Sunday, June 15, 2008 | 5:52 p.m. CDT; updated 5:11 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

CANTON — Sandbaggers on Sunday continued to fortify levees in Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, in Canton and in other Mississippi River communities now expecting to see river levels topping records set in the Great Flood of 1993.

Hannibal’s flood levee is expected to hold, even as a crest of 32.1 feet is expected on Thursday. The river reached 31.8 feet in 1993. The levee is built to hold back a flood reaching 34 feet. The levee protects the downtown area that includes Twain’s boyhood home and other popular tourist spots.

A few residents remain in the unprotected flood plain south of downtown. Those residents have moved to higher ground, mostly with friends or relatives.

In Canton, 120 miles north of St. Louis, people were fighting to save the levee built to withstand a river level of 27.5 feet. The crest is expected to reach a half-foot above that at 28 feet on Wednesday, topping the 1993 mark by one-tenth of a foot. Sandbags have been placed atop the levee in an effort to hold back the surging river.

A voluntary evacuation of the town of 2,500 residents was announced Sunday. The announcement was made at churches holding services. The city’s senior center was evacuated.

Two lines have been painted on Canton streets — one showing where water would likely stop if the levee breaches and the river level hits 27.5 feet. The other shows where water would reach if the river reaches 29.5 feet and tops the levee.

The record flooding is occurring after an abnormally wet spring punctuated by torrential June rains to the north that have caused the Mississippi to swell as it heads south.

The tiny town of Alexandria in far northeast Missouri has abandoned sandbagging efforts, and all residents have been told to get out by Monday. Levee district commissioner John Winkelman said the predicted crest of just under 29 feet there will be a foot higher than 1993 levels and probably too much for the levee to withstand.

In Louisiana, Mo., the house where Pamela Lewis, her boyfriend, Terry Garrett, and their four children live was just feet away from the rising river.

“We’re trying to gather what we really need,” Lewis said. “A lot of stuff we’re going to have to leave behind.”

In Clarksville, residents worked alongside prison inmates to complete a makeshift sandbag dam. Water was lapping at Front Street just a few yards from where thousands of bags were being filled.

Several roads were closed in northeast Missouri, including a section of U.S. 61 just south of the Iowa border and sections of Missouri 79 near Hannibal.

Two river crossings between Missouri and Illinois were closed, the Champ Clark bridge at Louisiana and a bridge at Quincy, Ill.

Moderate flooding was taking place along several spots on the Missouri River, but no major damage was reported.

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