Metro-East News

As flooding continues, National Guard patrols area levees in search of trespassers

Illinois National Guard patrols area levees in search of trespassers and problem spots

More than 20 Illinois National Guard members patrolled the levees in St. Clair County in search of trespassers and possible warning signs of levee failure. 200 National Guard members have been deployed to the flooded region all together.
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More than 20 Illinois National Guard members patrolled the levees in St. Clair County in search of trespassers and possible warning signs of levee failure. 200 National Guard members have been deployed to the flooded region all together.

More than 20 Illinois National Guard members patrolled the levees Monday in St. Clair County after several incidents of trespassing took place over the weekend.

St Clair County Emergency Management Agency Director and East Carondelet Mayor Herb Simmons said the guardsmen patrolled the levees in search of trespassers and possible warning signs of levee failure.

Over the weekend and on Monday several people were arrested or given citations for being on the levees. Three people were arrested Sunday after they allegedly damaging a newly constructed floodgate in Cahokia.

According to a social media post from the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, Cahokia Police, assisted by National Guard members, arrested the trio after they were seen removing sandbags from the floodgate on Water Street and throwing them into the river.

“We’re going to throw the book at them,” Sanitary District Deputy Executive Director Donald Sawicki told KSDK. “That’s serious. That is malicious destruction.”

Also, on Monday morning a person was arrested for fishing on a levee in North Dupo and late Sunday evening another offender was given a citation.

The floodgate, along with several others, were recently installed to fend off rising flood waters threatening the area. As of Monday, the Mississippi River had reached roughly 44.2 feet. It is expected to crest at 46 feet Thursday.

Simmons, who also was East Carondelet mayor during the Great Flood of 1993, said during that historical flood people lost their lives by being on or around the levees. He said that’s why there’s zero tolerance.

“Now is not the time to be sight seeing in the levee,” he said. “We don’t want any loss of life.”

There are currently five floodgates installed in the metro-east.

Madison and Monroe County are also working to make sure no one trespasses on the levees. Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said it is paramount that people stay away from the restricted areas. National Guardsmen are helping in flood relief efforts in Madison County as well.

In Monroe County, Sheriff Neal Rohlfing posted on Facebook that anyone caught disobeying traffic control signs—and does not live in the affected area or is helping those in the area move—will be receiving a citation.

Last week St. Clair Emergency Management Agency officials said the county would consider evacuating residents if the river’s level surpassed 47 feet, but as of now that isn’t expected. Simmons said the evacuation would be voluntary.

However, the river has reached historic levels, now only rivaled by the Great Flood of 1993, which saw the Mississippi reach 49.6 feet. Saturday, 200 National Guard member deployed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker arrived to assist in Madison and St. Clair counties.

Pritzker noted that the huge amount of work on the areas levees have ensured that a record flood like this isn’t nearly as devastating as it was in 1993.

“We started posting back in March that there could be possible record levels again, so there should be no surprise about this,” Simmons said. “They (National Weather Service) made the prediction and told us it would be toward the end of May and now we’re here.”

Adding to the flooding problems, state officials announced Monday that some areas of Illinois experienced record-breaking amounts of rain in May, as statewide totals mark the sixth consecutive month with above average rainfall, according to Brian Kerschner, spokesperson for the Illinois State Climatologist Office at the University of Illinois’ Illinois State Water Survey.

The preliminary average statewide precipitation in May was 8.43 inches, which is 3.83 inches above the long-term average. As it stands now, spring 2019 will rank within the top four wettest spring seasons in state history (March–May), with May 2019 ranking as the third wettest May in state history.

Simmons said it’s still important for people to stay vigilant and prepare for the possibility of a higher crest than what’s predicted. He said weather is possible this week, possibly starting Monday night, a factor that could influence Thursday’s crest.

“Right now they’re saying Thursday 46 feet but we have a rain pattern that could possibly start tonight for the next five days,” Simmons said. “So we’re monitoring that.”

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Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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