Mississippi River peaking at trouble spots

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 | 1:27 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Flood problems persist for a few unprotected communities, even as the Mississippi River has started to recede in most places.

The river was at crest Wednesday in hard-hit Missouri towns such as Louisiana and Clarksville. It was still rising toward an expected crest on Friday in Grafton, Ill.

Clarksville and Grafton are small but popular tourist towns and are among the few Mississippi River towns without flood protection. Both are now difficult to get to.

Missouri Route 79, the lone highway passing through Clarksville, was closed both north and south of town and in town as well. A winding two-lane road provided the only access to the town of 450 residents. In Grafton, Illinois Route 100 was shut down Wednesday, and Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Paris Ervin said Illinois Route 3 could close by Friday.

The river swelled over the past two weeks due largely to heavy rains in the upper Midwest. The flood was the third-worst on record in Burlington, Iowa, the fourth-worst in Keokuk, Iowa, and Canton, and the fifth-worst in Clarksville and Winfield.

Then again, river watchers say, floods are becoming so common that they're never really a shock.

"Much as I hate to say it, it's almost a normal thing," said Richard Murry, emergency management director for Pike County.

Clarksville was forced to sandbag for the fifth time in nine years. This year, the city had no money for a flood fight, but volunteers stepped up. A railroad company and the state donated tons of sand. Male and female prisoners helped sandbag around homes and businesses. Streets are under water, but outside of some seepage through the sandbags, the town remains protected, Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said.

Still, she's eager to see the water go away.

"It's not fun to sit here behind a wall," Smiley said. "The river plays games with you."

The river is flooding scattered homes and businesses in nearby Louisiana, and in Grafton. Meanwhile, bridges remain closed at Louisiana and Quincy, Ill., and several locks and dams are closed, essentially halting barge traffic.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland are underwater in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. What impact that will have on crops remains to be determined.

"In some corn fields, I've got water up to the tassels," Murry said. "Soybeans are underwater, too. It's not a good thing."

On the bright side, levees were holding. Earthen levees tend to start breaking when they've held back flood water for an extended period. This flood might be short-lived enough to spare most of them, Murry said.

St. Louis and towns to the south will see minor flooding or no flooding at all.

Officials won't know for some time just how costly this flood is, said Mike O'Connell, spokesman for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency.

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