June 24, 2008

Towns on the Mississippi Fortify for River’s Crest

With three days to go before the bloated Mississippi River reaches its crest, people toiled around the clock Monday to reinforce levees already strained and saturated from the pressure of the rising water.

Officials in Lincoln County asked for volunteers to help fill 50,000 sandbags to fortify the 2 1/2-mile-long Pin Oak levee, an earthen berm that was so waterlogged that it was like "walking on a waterbed," said county emergency management spokesman Andy Binder.

If the levee breaches, the river will swamp 100 homes in east Winfield, as well as farm fields and a city ballpark. A muskrat burrowed a hole in the soft ground during the night, releasing a geyser of water, and officials said it took nearly six hours to choke off the leak.

"We've got a winning battle here, but we need to stay on top of it," said Jeff Stamper, a structural engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers.

A handful of residents remained in Winfield on Monday, after emergency workers went door to door urging them to evacuate. Among the holdouts was Sherman Jones, 56, who was alone in his house except for his dogs, Mugsy and Junior.

"There is no place to go but the high school. I am not going to leave till my feet are wet," Jones said. "It's been a rough year, but we'll get through it."

Elsewhere in the hard-hit county a few dozen miles north of St. Louis, National Guard soldiers patrolled levees looking for soft spots.

Downriver in Grafton, Ill., Mayor Richard Mosby said that about 20 homes and businesses were flooded - but no more were expected to be affected if the Mississippi crests, as forecast, just a few inches above Monday's level.

The river's crest was not expected to reach Grafton and Winfield until Thursday or Friday .

Illinois Emergency Management Agency officials said National Guard soldiers, prison inmates and others kept piling sandbags Monday on the Sny levee, a 52-mile barrier near Quincy, Ill., as the river crested Monday and started to recede.

near-record river level

Not far from the Iowa state line, the Mississippi was down a few inches at Canton, Mo., after cresting Sunday at 27 feet - less than a foot short of the record set during the Great Flood of 1993.