'Cause for alarm': More rain may force area floodwaters to rise again

By staff and wire reportsApril 22, 2013 

The Mississippi River has begun cresting, but more rain predicted for Tuesday could force it to rise once again.

Madison County Chairman Alan Dunstan on Monday issued a disaster proclamation that will allow emergency management agencies to offer support in flooded areas.

Downtown Alton is already experiencing "minor flooding," according to Dunstan. The county is loaning Alton its sandbagging machine, 4,000 sandbags and will offer manpower for placing the sandbags to protect the city, according to Larry Ringering, director of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

Flooding in Alton and along Illinois Route 100, the Great River Road, is the highest concern, as Grafton expects flooding on a par with its 2008 disaster. However, other places are flooding as well, Ringering said. Silver Creek and Edwardsville's Dunlap Lake have seen high levels of water since last week's downpours.

"The heavy rain the Midwest has recently experienced has resulted in flooding in many areas of Madison County, especially in areas bordering the Mississippi River," Dunstan said. "The proclamation of disaster is necessary for the county to be in position to immediately provide support that will help protect county residents and businesses."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activated its Levee Emergency Plan, which includes closing one lane of the Berm Highway near Lock and Dam 26 and beginning bypass pumping to avoid sand boils at the base of the levee.

The National Weather Service predicts the Mississippi River will crest at 30 feet in Alton on Tuesday, somewhat lower than initial projections of 34 feet. However, a river level of 29 feet results in moderate flooding, according to a county release.

Ringering reminded residents to be "very cautious" when driving in areas where roads may be covered by water, particularly as the danger of flash floods has not ended. "You never know how deep the water is and many vehicles can stall in relatively shallow water," Ringering said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District is forecasting river levels will crest Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis and at the Mel Price Lock and Dam in East Alton. The rising water has also forced the Corps to temporarily close all recreation areas along the river. The Corps' Rivers Project Office has temporarily closed Pool 26 in Calhoun County and Pool 27 in Madison County, which will remain closed until the water level recedes.

By Monday, the rain-swollen river strained a hastily erected makeshift floodwall in Clarksville, Mo., creating two trouble spots that volunteers were scrambling to patch -- as well as build a second sandbag wall to catch any water weaseling through.

But though the Mighty Mississippi is starting to recede, another batch of heavy rain threatens to push it back up. Some areas may get another inch of rain or two, according to the National Weather Service. River levels could rise again, perhaps even a few inches higher than weekend crests.

Mark Fuchs, a National Weather Service hydrologist, said the latest dousing could be especially troubling for communities along the Illinois River, which he said is headed for record crests.

"Along the Illinois, any increase is going to be cause for alarm, adding to their uncertainty and, in some cases, misery," he said late Monday afternoon.

Last week's downpours brought on sudden flooding throughout the Midwest, and high water is blamed for at least three deaths. A woman last seen stranded along a flooded bridge was missing in Illinois, and a boy was in critical condition after being pulled from a river in Missouri.

Down the river, traffic on the Jefferson Barracks Bridge returned Monday after it was struck by some of the 114 barges that broke away over the weekend. The salvage operation that had disrupted river traffic south of St. Louis after the accident is expected to go on for several days.

All of the breakaway barges are now accounted for. According to U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Byron Black, 11 of them sank and must be recovered. Black said the barge accident did not cause any injuries or spills into the Mississippi River.

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