UPDATE: Rivers rising again in Missouri

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 | 9:55 a.m. CDT; updated 12:08 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ST. LOUIS — The sandbags are already filled in Clarksville, Mo., and if the Mississippi River continues to creep across Front Street toward the tiny downtown, volunteers will be building a sandbag wall to protect the town as they have before.

"We've been here many times," Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said Wednesday. "You just learn to live with it, and do everything that you can to be prepared when it comes."

Even for towns like Clarksville that are accustomed to flooding, this year has been exceptional. The Mississippi began the year at a higher level than usual due to autumn rains and winter snow. Every time the river falls below flood stage, another round of rain comes and it goes back up.

This time, the rain has been heavy. Starting Monday night and into Tuesday, parts of southern Iowa, northern Missouri and western Illinois received 5-7 inches of rain, and one northeast Missouri county reported 10 inches.

The storms caused flash flooding that stranded cars, forced home evacuations and closed dozens of roads in the northeast Missouri towns of Hannibal and Louisiana. The death of a 48-year-old Louisiana woman was blamed on the flash flood. She died while swimming with her sons in a rain-swollen creek.

"All that rain fell on already-saturated soil," National Weather Service meteorologist Julie Phillipson said. "A lot of the precipitation went directly into runoff."

By Wednesday, the flash floods were gone, but the rivers were up sharply over a 24-hour period. The Mississippi rose about 3 1/2 feet in Quincy, Ill., and Hannibal. The Kaskaskia River at Vandalia, Ill., was up nearly 7 feet. The Cuivre River at Troy, Mo., rose 19 feet. The Chariton at Novinger, Mo., rose nearly 24 feet and was within a half-foot of the all-time high set in 1917.

In Iowa, the fast-rising Des Moines River was well above its banks in Ottumwa and Keosauqua. Some streets were flooded and thousands of acres of farmland were under water.

Over the years since the massive flood of 1993, government buyouts along the Mississippi River have moved most homes and businesses out of harm's way, and levees and flood walls protect other flood-prone communities. So even moderate to major flooding doesn't have the impact it did in years gone by.

Still, there are exceptions, like Clarksville, a scenic town of about 500 residents situated about halfway between Hannibal and St. Louis.

Clarksville draws thousands of visitors each year to its quaint shops and array of artists. It does not have a levee, and a small park and Front Street are all that separate the downtown area from the Mighty Mississippi.

The river was already at 30.3 feet Wednesday, 5.3 feet above flood stage. The Weather Service predicted it would crest at 32.9 feet on Thursday — meaning water would be lapping up near the edge of the business district.

Smiley said sandbags were filled a few weeks ago, the last time the river was threatening.

"We have a stack of sandbags ready," Smiley said. "If the river crosses the street, we'll put up the sandbags."

More storms are possible through the week, but things should start to dry out over the weekend, Phillipson said.

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