June 25, 2008

Weak Levee Under Pressure in Mo.


By Cheryl Wittenauer

The Associated Press


The weakest spot left along the swollen Mississippi River may be the Pin Oak levee, a barrier so tenuous that soil slides down its slope.

Only National Guard soldiers and firefighters in life vests are allowed to stack sandbags, because volunteers and heavy equipment could sink. A muskrat recently created a geyser of water by digging into the berm.

But the earthen levee is all that's still protecting 100 houses, a city park, several businesses and 3,000 acres of agricultural land in east Winfield, one of the last towns where the upper Mississippi was expected to crest.

For days, emergency management officials in Lincoln County have focused on the 2.5 -mile-long levee about 45 miles northwest of St. Louis. A storm Tuesday was the latest impediment to the desperate attempts to shore up the Pin Oak.

"This storm is not a good thing," said Jeff Stamper, a structural engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "It pulled everyone off. You can work on a levee in the rain, but not in lightning."

The Mississippi was expected to finally crest at Winfield late today and to flow at its high-water mark - more than 11 feet above flood stage - for several more days. A disturbance as minor as a passing boat could lead to disaster.

"A 2-inch wake could be the difference between saving the levee and catastrophic failure," said Andy Binder, Lincoln County emergency management spokesman.

Originally published by BY CHERYL WITTENAUER.

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