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Sandbag barrier fails in Winfield as more flooding is predicted

Saturday, June 28, 2008 | 8:00 p.m. CDT; updated 1:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

WINFIELD — The last-ditch effort to save about 100 homes in the eastern Missouri town of Winfield failed early Saturday when a makeshift levee gave way.

Water began running under the 4-foot-tall barrier around 4:30 a.m. An alarm sounded and the few residents remaining in the flood plain were ordered to get out.

“It was a valiant effort,” said Chris Azar of the Winfield-Foley Fire Department. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t do more but Mother Nature won. Now, just give it time for the water to recede.”

Hours after the Pin Oak levee that protected part of the town of 720 residents failed on Friday, the National Guard began constructing the makeshift 2,700-foot levee around a cluster of about 100 homes. That levee was constructed of a Hesco wall — a steel frame with cloth filled with dirt — then more dirt, plastic and sandbags. Hundreds of volunteers filled sandbags for the effort.

National Guard Capt. Marie Orlando said water first seeped through the barrier, then through it. It began to tilt forward. Around midnight, it became clear the barrier couldn’t entirely be repaired, though the fight to save it continued for several hours.

“While it’s unfortunate it breached, the effort bought the town some time,” Orlando said. “It allowed lots of extra time to evacuate and remove important items.”

Jan Fox, 50, finally left her mobile home in the threatened neighborhood around 10:30 p.m. Friday and moved to the Red Cross shelter. She watched military vehicles return before sunrise and knew something had happened.

“You could see it was over. They couldn’t do any more. They had done their best,” Fox said.

Azar said at least 60 homes in the cluster were immediately affected by the flood, although authorities were still assessing the damage. Many other homes in Winfield sit on a hill above the river and are well out of harm’s way. Evacuees were mostly staying with relatives or friends, though eight were staying at a Red Cross shelter set up at the high school.

Winfield, 45 miles northwest of St. Louis, is in Lincoln County, which has been particularly hard hit by flooding. County emergency operations spokesman Andy Binder said 92 homes have been destroyed, 36 others have major damage and 650 haven’t been evaluated because they remain inaccessible.

In nearby Foley, the mayor requested that anyone who doesn’t live there stay out of town. The wake caused by vehicles driving through floodwaters was causing more problems for already damaged homes.

The Mississippi’s water level is going down at Winfield and towns to the north, but remains well above flood stage. Crests will reach St. Louis on Monday and Cape Girardeau on Wednesday.

Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri is now expected to see a crest of 43 feet, the seventh-highest on record there. If the prediction holds, some residents will be forced to evacuate and 100,000 acres of farmland will flood, the National Weather Service said.

Meanwhile, heavy rains in parts of the state on Thursday and early Friday are causing a rise in the Missouri River, which joins the Mississippi near St. Louis. The National Weather Service predicts moderate flooding in parts of mid-Missouri by Monday, including Jefferson City, where some roads are expected to close and about 300 acres of farmland may flood.

“The level at Jefferson City is where you can become a bit more concerned, but it is not in the category of what we’ve seen on the Mississippi by any stretch of the imagination,” Weather Service meteorologist Scott Truett said.

Rain in northwest Missouri added to the already-high Missouri River basin. Fortunately, Truett said, rainfall in the areas that drain into the Mississippi was far less significant.

While Winfield lost the battle to save its levee, some Missouri towns were rejoicing that they’ve apparently weathered the threat. Flood-fighters in Canton, West Quincy and Hannibal were breathing easier, if not yet ready to declare victory over the Mississippi.

In Alexandria, a tiny town near the Iowa border, the levee held, perhaps against all odds. With floodwaters receding, evacuees were moving back home. A few houses had water inside, but nothing irreparable.

A massive sandbagging effort was still protecting most of the businesses in Clarksville. Water was still high but receding in nearby Louisiana. Both of those towns don’t have levees. The Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi at Louisiana remained closed.

Heavy rain inundated much of southwest Missouri Saturday morning, causing widespread flooding of low-lying areas and roads.

In Taney County, a bridge along Lake Taneycomo collapsed around 10:30 a.m. and emergency workers had to evacuate around 15 people from a flooded mobile home park after the area received 3-5 inches of rain in two hours, said Chris Berndt, the county’s emergency management director.

Berndt said no one was hurt in the bridge collapse, which will force drivers to take an eight-mile detour.

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AP reporters David Twiddy in Kansas City and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.


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