Blue skies belie the coming flood

June 20, 2008


By Tim Bryant
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
06/18/2008

FOLEY — John Watson plans to ride out this spring’s flood in a tent set up near a portable generator, fan, TV and a cooler — all on his roof.

On Tuesday, water from the flooding Mississippi River remained a couple of miles away, out of sight in a line of pecan trees across wide bottomland fields.

“But it’s coming,” Watson said.
Water began pouring Tuesday over levees in several areas in Lincoln County. Authorities repeated their plea, first made Monday, for residents between the river and Highway 79 to voluntarily evacuate.

No way, said Watson, who lives on Mill Street, in sight of the highway.

He and his stepson Billy Ray Smith, and a friend, Charles Jarvis, sweated as they rolled up carpets and hoisted them into the attic, safe from the flood they expect will arrive by Thursday. Watson, 49, also stored interior doors in the attic and put his furniture and appliances in storage.

He is among the estimated 20 residents in low-lying areas who plan to stay in Foley, population about 200, and nearby Winfield, population about 900, as the Mississippi rises to near the record levels of 1993.

Parts of Foley, Winfield, Elsberry and Old Monroe are among the Lincoln County areas likely to go under this week. Several hundred homes could be affected, said Andy Binder, a spokesman for the county emergency management department.

Eighty National Guard members were scheduled to be in the county by today, Binder said. Half would help bolster levees while the rest would prepare to man checkpoints along Highway 79 to keep potential looters out of flooded areas.

Watson, a roofer, said he feared that thieves would enter his unprotected residence and strip out valuable wiring.

“I can’t afford to lose my house,” he said.

As a result, he plans to camp out on his roof in a tent set up on a wooden pallet leveled with bundles of shingles.

About a dozen flood victims moved temporarily to an American Red Cross shelter established at Winfield High School.

Lincoln County authorities appealed for donations of nonperishable food and bottled water for weary volunteers and emergency officials. Donations may be delivered to the Winfield Ambulance Base at 11 Highland Drive.

To the south, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann declared a state of emergency, which can help in getting state and federal aid. Emergency management officials met in Portage des Sioux to discuss flood preparations, which include the stacking of 10,000 sandbags along Portage Road. The West Alton and Portage des Sioux areas are expected to bear the brunt of flooding.

Upstream, in Clarksville, Mo., residents, volunteers, National Guard members and Missouri inmates continued sandbagging to protect the small town. Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said all was being done to prepare for the predicted 38-foot flood crest on Friday.

“We fix one thing and it breaks,” she said. “Sewers are plugged up. We have leaks in wells, and people need things. We’re boating food to people.

“I cry a lot, but I get a lot of e-mail prayers. That helps.”

Farther upstream in Hannibal, Mo., residents expressed relief because levee breaks to the north caused the Mississippi to drop slightly in Mark Twain’s hometown. Officials said they expect the city’s levee and flood wall to hold back the water.

In all, the state deployed nearly 500 National Guard members to flood areas. Nearly 190 prisoners from the state Department of Corrections helped pile sandbags in Clarksville, Canton, Louisiana and Marion County.

Hermann and Washington authorities said flooding from the Missouri River is minor and presents no threat to residents.

In Illinois, a breach in a sodden levee on the Mississippi near Burlington, Iowa, gave quiet relief to several Grafton-area residents.

“It’s terrible to say, but a levee breaking up there helps us down here,” said Greg Medford, a Jerseyville resident who was in Grafton on Tuesday to help sandbag his father’s convenience store.

West and East Main streets remained divided by the encroaching river. Water lapped at the backs of businesses along Main Street — with some closed and others open.

Residents milled about town or drove the steep back roads along the bluffs to bypass the flooded area severing the town’s main thoroughfare.

The river crest forecast was extended a day and raised by 4 inches in Grafton. Now, the Mississippi is expected to crest Tuesday morning at 31.4 feet.

In Alton, floodwater covered part of West Broadway, which was partially closed Tuesday. Workers began constructing a temporary gravel road to bridge floodwater at the entrance to the Argosy Casino, which remained open.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich added Madison County to a state disaster declaration to help those areas respond to flooding issues along the Mississippi. Since last Wednesday, the governor has declared 19 counties state disaster areas.

About 230 Illinois inmates helped pile sandbags in several areas. Blagojevich activated 1,100 Illinois National Guard troops to assist with sandbagging and other flood preparation efforts.

In Foley, Watson already was looking forward to the post-flood cleanup. He eyed a large mulch pile across the street and predicted floodwater will float it through his neighborhood.

“It’s going to be a huge mess,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to leave the screen doors up, to keep some stuff out.”

Post-Dispatch reporters Nicholas J.C. Pistor and Joel Currier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ever since the basement floods from last April and May, I have a phobia of floods. By this weekend, Old Charbonier will be completely underwater all the way to 370. The entire valley from Portage De Sioux over to West Alton and down to Old Charbonier will be flooded. Yesterday and today, FEMA began staging behind our building, anticipating a crest at 30 feet all the way to Jefferson County. On Monday, I’ll be seeing it from the air. Looks like we wont be fishing in the rivers for awhile..

Pictures from the Post-Dispatch

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