Watching the river rise: 'We can't let our guard down'

News-DemocratApril 23, 2013 

Chris Keidel sat Tuesday in his bar on State Street just across Broadway from the Mississippi River in Alton and listened to the whirring sound of pumps trying to keep the 3 feet of water in his basement from getting any deeper.

He was remarkably calm, considering the fact that his business, the Big Muddy Pub, was on the line. But Keidel has been through this before.

"My first experience with flooding was the first year I was open in 2003 and I didn't get a lot of sleep back then," Keidel. "But it's part of the territory here to deal with the flooding in the spring. Now I'm prepared with automatic pumps that can keep my business open -- as long as the water doesn't get really high."

He was relieved to learn Tuesday morning that forecasters reeled in their predictions that the river would crest Wednesday in St. Louis at just more than 30 feet. As of Tuesday evening, the prediction is that it would hold at about 281/2 feet. That foot and a half makes a big difference, they say.

It looks like the sandbags city workers and volunteers stacked around the row of businesses where Keidel operates his business aren't going to be needed, he said. At least not this time.

"As long as I can keep the water from reaching the rafters (in the basement) we're going to be all right."

Next door, Alexandra Mattea was a little less certain. She opened her business, LuciAnna's Pastries, just a few months ago and she hadn't previously been through the downtown Alton rite of spring.

"The other people around here say they're used to it," Mattea said. "They say it's going to be OK, so I try not to think too much about it. It is what it is."

Farther north in Grafton, the main traffic artery through town was severed by flood water. Highway 100 was flooded Tuesday between Vine and Maple Streets.

While things could have been worse, Jersey State Bank supervisor Tammie Updike had time to stand on the flood wall that guards the businesses' parking lot and shout to neighbors on the river side of Highway 100 to ask how they were holding out because it seemed everyone assumed the bank was closed.

"We're open, but I guess nobody knows it," Updike said. "I hate to see the flooding because this was going to be a big weekend. There was supposed to be a poker run, a benefit ride for autism, the Mushroom Festival and a flea market at the Loading Dock. It's really going to impact the local economy."

While some businesses were suffering, others were booming, likely because of gawkers who wanted to see the flooding along the Great River Road.

Jeff Lorton, owner of Aeries Winery and Cottages on Timber Ridge Drive, said not only is his establishment that overlooks the river from a hill dry, it had its best day of the year Saturday.

Lt. Colin Fogarty of the U.S. Coast Guard said the most significant thing about the current flooding isn't the depth.

"It's how fast the water came up," Fogarty said. "We had a whole lot of rain in the Midwest over the past few days and it's had a big impact on the water level."

Just three months ago, the overflowing river was so low that operators of barge companies were concerned it would get too low for tows to navigate and the Corps of Engineers were blasting limestone rock to the south so barges could get through.

"We can't let our guard down because on the river things can change quickly," Fogarty said.

So far the Cpl. Chris Belchick Expressway in Alton has been closed at Illinois 143 and one westbound lane of Illinois 143 is closed between Lock and Dam Way and Discovery Parkway.

Farther south, East Carondelet Mayor Herb Simmons said the city has not yet sustained damage from rising waters. He expects that to remain unchanged as the Mississippi River crests.

"We're in good shape," he said. "If we haven't seen anything by now, we should be OK."

A stretch of the Mississippi River near St. Louis reopened to shipping after the Coast Guard concluded 11 barges that sank last weekend in the rain-swollen waterway weren't a hazard to navigation. The 15-mile stretch was reopened Monday, while investigators continue trying to determine what caused 114 barges to break free Saturday night from where they were docked in St. Louis County.

Four of the barges hit the Jefferson Barracks Bridge. Officials determined the bridge was undamaged.

All the barges that didn't sink were corralled.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service recorded 0.28 inches of rain at Scott Air Force Base and 0.32 inches at Downtown St. Louis Airport in Cahokia. The latest rain wasn't expected to have much effect on the cresting river.

BND reporter Jennifer Bowen and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service