June 14, 2008
Illinois Floods Cause Headaches
By The Associated Press
At her Real McCoy Cafe in Lawrenceville, Ill., Nancy Hettich is mighty proud of the joint's Italian beef sandwich and carrot cake. If only she could open the place to serve it.
The 64-year-old proprietor and the southeastern Illinois community of 4,600 near the Indiana line grappled for a second day Thursday with a broken water system that left businesses with no usable tap water, forcing them to close.
Such inconveniences were popping up through much of Illinois, no thanks to swollen rivers such as the Embarras and Wabash near Hettich's turf, to the other side of the state, where the Mississippi River's rise forced some ferry services to be halted and a towboat festival to be scrapped.
With more rain on the way, there's worry that things will only get worse.
"It's a waiting game, that's what it is. It's a little depressing," Hettich said from her empty cafe.
Flooding has nagged the area since levee breaks Tuesday swamped a Lawrence County campsite and forced evacuations of some 200 rural homes. Sheriff Russell Adams said those evacuees remained displaced Thursday, their access still blocked.
Adams said crews believe they "pretty much" had pinpointed where the water system failed, but that trouble was under several feet of floodwaters.
"Until we can set eyes on it, we don't know what happened" and can't fix it, he said.
On the state's western edge, north of St. Louis, the Golden Eagle Ferry stopped shuttling vehicles across the Mississippi between Calhoun County and Missouri's St. Charles County, days after another ferry linking Grafton to Missouri closed indefinitely.
In Grafton, a touristy Mississippi River town northeast of St. Louis, organizers scrapped plans for the Great Rivers Towboat Festival scheduled for late June, deciding rising river levels and crest predictions would be too unsafe for tours.
The Mississippi's rise - and the potential it could become more swollen by several inches of rain expected upriver - prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up closing locks near St. Louis as part of its plan to shut down a 250-mile stretch of the river.
The Corps said a lock at Clarksville, Mo., would close Sunday, a day earlier than planned. The Corps already planned to close locks near the Illinois towns of Illinois City, New Boston and Gladstone on Thursday, then one at Quincy on Saturday.
The Corps said locks must be closed to remove and store electric motors that move lock gates and culvert valves.
In largely rural Clark County near Lawrenceville, heavy rain and water spilling out of the Wabash River this week swamped culverts and about 20 miles of roads, many of them still submerged Thursday, county engineer Jack Ward said.
"When you get 15 inches of rain in less than week, you're gonna have those kinds of problems," he said.
Repairs could cost up to $750,000, Ward estimates, though he's hoping for state or federal disaster aid.
The city of Martinsville, about 15 miles west of the Indiana border along Interstate 70, lost its water service for about 48 hours this week and now must replace much of the inner workings of its water plant, city clerk Marlene Wilhoit said.
In Northern Illinois, the Rock River in Winnebago County had reached flood stage at 12.5 feet. It was expected to reach its crest of 15.2 feet on Monday and begin falling back.
"We are working for the worst, planning for the worst, but hoping for the best," said Dennis Lolli, head of the county's Emergency Services and Disaster Agency. "We are not anticipating any huge troubles."
Officials were also preparing for the Fox River to rise further with heavy rain forecast for Thursday afternoon.
In eastern Illinois, the state Department of Natural Resources reopened the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River to boaters late Wednesday after closing it 10 days earlier. The department said water levels pulled back enough to allow canoes and other watercraft to safely navigate the channel.
Associated Press reporters David Mercer in Champaign and Maria Danilova in Chicago contributed to this report.
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