ST. LOUIS — Mississippi River communities scrambling Tuesday to fend off the rain-engorged waterway got discouraging news: More rains looming across much of the nation's midsection threatened to slow the potential retreat of the renegade river.
Such an outlook may not be welcomed in the northeast Missouri town of West Alton, where a makeshift levee's breach Monday fanned worries that the 570-resident town — which was mostly swept away by a flood in 1993 — would be inundated again. A voluntary evacuation advisory before the breach was fixed was heeded by just 15 percent of the town's residents, but "everyone else is ready to go at a moment's notice" if the hastily shored-up barrier shows signs of giving way, Fire Chief Rick Pender said Tuesday.
For now, he said, "everything is stable," with much of the flooding corralled in a railroad bed acting as a town-protecting channel.
"There are some spots not looking pretty (as defenses), but they're still holding the water back," Pender told The Associated Press by telephone. "Everyone is just monitoring the sandbags and barriers, waiting for this water to come down."
The latest National Weather Service forecasts suggest that was to happen later Tuesday. But more rains expected in coming days, from St. Louis north to Minnesota and westward across some of the Great Plains, stood to drop another inch of precipitation here and there, adding more water to the Missouri River and the Mississippi River into which it feeds, National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said.
"We're not talking about huge amounts, but any amount when the soil already is wet is going to slow the rivers' retreat," Fuchs said from his St. Louis-area office. "If you take that into account, there's not going to be a big drop in the river levels any time soon."
Across the river in Illinois, in the 28,000-resident city of Alton north of St. Louis, floodwaters already forced the closure of the local casino and the scenic "Great River Road" leading out of it to the north. By late Monday, floodwaters had swamped some of the Clark Bridge linking the city to West Alton, halting traffic from making it into Missouri.
Yet there was reason for optimism: The National Weather Service as of Tuesday afternoon said the river at Alton was expected to crest that evening, some 13 feet above flood stage.
The worst was yet to come south of St. Louis near Cape Girardeau, where the river was continued to swell higher until reaching a peak Thursday night, again some 13 feet above flood stage.
That rapid rise has produced a feverish sandbagging effort in nearby Dutchtown, where the river threatened to send water into about a third of the homes in the tiny town of about 100 people. It also was threatening to make another nearby community — Allenville, population 117 — an island. In Dutchtown, dozens of prison inmates bussed in were working shoulder to shoulder with other volunteers Tuesday, working to bolster the makeshift barrier.
"So far, the levees are doing fine," Dutchtown Alderwoman Shirley Moss said. "We still have a lot of water coming this way, and we're still all out here working. It's very treacherous, and you just don't know how much you need to do to prevent this water from coming into town.
"We're doing all we can, with all the help we can get."