ST. LOUIS — The Mississippi River continued its slow rise Tuesday at several Missouri and Illinois towns, but there was reason for optimism after overnight rainfall wasn't as bad as predicted.
Spurred by heavy recent rains to the north, the Mississippi rose sharply over the past two weeks, reaching major flood levels from central Iowa south to near St. Louis. Storms brought strong winds, hail and still more rain to northern Missouri and western Illinois Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Rainfall amounts were generally less than 2 inches. National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said that means the river level should not go up much, if at all. The forecast also is promising.
"We're not anticipating any rain over the basin in the next two or three days, so that's good. That'll help," Gosselin said.
The river has crested from Iowa through northeast Missouri. It's still rising in places such as Clarksville, Missouri, and Grafton, Illinois, small tourist towns north of St. Louis. Sandbag walls are up in Clarksville, and Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said efforts are now focused on fixing a few places where water is seeping through. Prisoners, both men and women, have been working with townspeople and other volunteers.
"We're holding our own," Smiley said. "We've got a 200th birthday coming up here in 2017. We need to still be alive and well to celebrate it!"
Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson said the Mississippi's steady rise has forced one downtown business — the Hawg Pit BBQ Barn — to evacuate. More could follow suit if the river — already more than 6 feet above flood stage at the 670-resident city — blows past forecasts that it'll rise 3 more feet before leveling off early Saturday.
In a tiny town that by choice has no levee or other defenses against the river, Thompson said, "We just let the water come in, do its thing and go back again."
"That's the history of Grafton," he said. "We've just learned to accept our fate and our location on the river. One thing about the people of Grafton is that they've just been able through the years to find ways to live with the river."
The Weather Service expects the river to reach 2 to 3 feet above flood stage before cresting this weekend in St. Louis. Such minor flooding is not expected to have significant impact on the $380 million project to upgrade the Gateway Arch grounds and the area near the grounds.
Two Mississippi River bridges remain closed — one at Quincy, Illinois, the other at Louisiana, Missouri. Quincy has two bridges so all traffic is being routed to the one that remains open, and it is not threatened. The closure of the Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana is more troublesome, meaning traffic on U.S. 54 must go roughly 70 miles out of its way to loop up to Hannibal, Missouri, and then back down.
River traffic also has ground to a halt, with several locks and dams closed between Muscatine, Iowa, and Clarksville.
Gosselin said that as the river crests, it will drop out of major flood stage fairly quickly at most locations, assuming more storms don't arrive to worsen the situation. Still, the Mississippi will remain high for weeks to come.
"Most likely it'll go into August at some of these points," Gosselin said.