Mississippi River towns brace for rising floodwaters

Mississippi River towns in Illinois and Missouri are expecting floodwaters to crest soon. So far, the damage is limited, but one community is already under voluntary evacuation orders.

Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat/AP
Kaskaskia River flooding hit the marina in New Athens, Ill., Monday. Mississippi River towns are facing cresting floodwaters Tuesday.

Heavy rain from the weekend sent water over the top of a levee and a sandbag barrier near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, leading to the evacuation of about 300 people in Missouri. Farther south, the Mississippi River topped 40 feet near St. Louis late Monday – about 10 feet from the level usually considered a major flood. The height is expected to hold until Wednesday.

The only evacuations reported so far are in West Alton, Mo., a town of 573 people located between both rivers, where late Monday evening authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for residents. The waters overtopping both the levee and the temporary sandbag barrier are moving slowly toward roadways that lead directly to town.

“Its beat us twice, and we’re still going to keep on working towards it, but we need to let our residents know what is going on,” Fire Chief Richard Pender of the Rivers Pointe Fire District told KSDK-TV. The bridge across the Mississippi River connecting West Alton to Alton, Ill., is temporarily closed.

High water is reported throughout other small towns along the Mississippi River. Grafton, Ill., located 20 miles north of St. Louis near the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, is facing more than 10 feet of water. Residents were sandbagging homes and moving belongings into trucks. Mayor Tom Thompson told KTVI-TV that water levels are projected to reach 29.4 feet, which is about 13 feet above normal.

In St. Louis, water is reported in some streets and along the doorways of houses in some neighborhoods, but there is no imminent threat, forecasters say.

The rising waters forced the US Coast Guard to close the Port of St. Louis, which could remain closed until early next week. Moreover, seven locks over a 200 mile-stretch of the Mississippi north of St. Louis – from New Boston, Ill., to Winfield, Mo. – were shut down Tuesday. The shutdown is expected to pause the flow of barges from farms above St. Louis en route to the Gulf Coast.

About 60 percent of all US grain exports make this journey, reports the Associated Press, but the temporarily disruption has not yet affected the price of grain exports.

The National Weather Service forecasts severe thunderstorms late Tuesday afternoon throughout the evening across a region that includes much of Oklahoma, Kansas, western Missouri, southeastern Nebraska, and southwestern Iowa.

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