Floodwaters leveling off in St. Louis; crest expected at Cape Girardeau on Wednesday

Monday, June 30, 2008 | 3:15 p.m. CDT; updated 5:12 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The Mississippi River was reaching its high-water mark at St. Louis on Monday, and crests were still expected over the next couple of days downriver. But by all accounts, the worst of the flood of 2008 appeared to be over, barring another torrential rain to the north.

The National Weather Service said the river at St. Louis was leveling off at just short of 9 feet above flood stage and was expected to stay there into Tuesday before slowly falling. St. Louis is protected by a floodwall in the low-lying areas, and the downtown rises sharply from the river, so the flood wasn’t causing any major problems.

The President Casino remained closed, as did a couple of riverboat excursions and a bike rental near the Gateway Arch. The Arch is unaffected by flooding.

“The message is we are open for business,” said Donna Andrews, spokeswoman for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission.

The city’s annual Independence Day festival will move away from the Arch grounds to another spot downtown. The Live on the Levee concert series, also normally at the Arch, has also relocated. With the Cubs in town for a weekend series with the Cardinals, Andrews expects big crowds for the weekend, flooding or not.

“That’s one thing about St. Louis — we learn to adapt,” she said.

In Ste. Genevieve, a quaint village of 4,400 people 64 miles south of St. Louis, the flood fight this year is nothing like in 1993, when hundreds of volunteers barely managed to hold back the raging river. This year’s crest, while well above flood stage, will be about 12 feet short of the ‘93 record. Also, a new $41 million levee has been built to protect the French Colonial village that dates to 1735.

The only problems were relatively minor — water closed U.S. 61 in a couple of spots around nearby St. Mary, some agricultural land was flooded and sand boils bubbled at a farm levee. But Ste. Genevieve County Commissioner Albert Fults said sandbags appeared to solve the problem.

“We’re actually in pretty decent shape,” Fults said.

The river at Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri is expected to crest at 42.5 feet on Wednesday. That’s 12.5 feet above flood stage. Thousands of acres of farmland are flooded, but a floodwall protects Cape Girardeau and most of its 36,000 residents. Few if any homes will be affected, Cape Girardeau County emergency management director Richard Knaup said.

If the crest prediction goes a little higher, a makeshift levee will be built to protect Dutchtown, a community of 100 residents south of Cape Girardeau. But Knaup was confident that wouldn’t be necessary.

“Right now, we’re looking at it to be a nonevent,” he said.

In hard-hit Lincoln County, northwest of St. Louis, water was slowly starting to recede in towns like Winfield and Foley. Hundreds of homes in the county took on water, including about 100 after a muskrat hole caused a break Friday in the Pin Oak levee at Winfield. It likely will be weeks before a damage estimate is available.

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