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River levels will crest at major flood stages again this weekend

Mississippi River rising in Grafton and Alton

Flooding scenes from Alton and Grafton, Illinois where the Mississippi river is rising. The river is expected to crest at almost 32 feet Monday May 6th, 2019 in Grafton, 6 feet below the historic 1993 flood.
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Flooding scenes from Alton and Grafton, Illinois where the Mississippi river is rising. The river is expected to crest at almost 32 feet Monday May 6th, 2019 in Grafton, 6 feet below the historic 1993 flood.

Water levels on the Mississippi River are expected to crest at major flood stages again this weekend.

According to the National Weather Service forecast, the river will crest at 35.2 feet in Alton and at 31 feet in Grafton on May 26. In St. Louis, the levels are expect to reach 41.8 feet the same day.

The region enjoyed a slight break from flooding this week, when the river receded. But those working on flood recovery efforts aren’t in the clear just yet, as heavy rain is predicted in areas to the north.

“It’s teasing us,” Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin said of the river. “Just when things are looking up, it comes back again.”

Eberlin said businesses that had been closed due to recent flooding had opened up last Thursday and began cleaning efforts, only to learn that the river would be cresting once again and putting them in jeopardy.

“It’s going to be a difficult time for a lot of people,” he said.

Evacuations will likely have to happen for people who live along the riverfront, Eberlin said. A Jersey County building inspector went through the town on Tuesday, putting notices on structures that were damaged by the last bout of flooding.

Businesses will remain open for as long as they can, and potential Memorial Day weekend visitors are encouraged to call businesses ahead of time to verify hours and alternative directions should the Great River Road may close again. The major road re-opened last week after being closed for almost a month. Businesses along the scenic route suffer when the road closes, since it deters tourists.

Bob Barnhart, the Alton Public Works director, said that the city is preparing for the major rise by coordinating with the Illinois Department of Transportation for any major road closures, including part of the Great River Road that runs along Alton’s Broadway Street. Barnhart said the department has called riverside local businesses to inform them of the plans.

“We’re constructing a wall anywhere from 4 to 8 feet tall and 400 feet long from State to Broadway streets,” he said. “It may be longer or higher as needed based on projections.”

That wall will be reinforced with rock, and the city will place pumps to pump rainwater and seepage as needed. Those pumps have to be watched around the clock until river levels recede.

Barnhart said the weather has taken a toll on his department. As more manpower is devoted to flood control, less time can be spent on construction and maintenance projects. In addition to the flooding, heavy rainfall in the area has made the ground soft in places the department mows.

“Resources and conditions haven’t been helpful to getting things done efficiently, but we’re doing our best,” he said.

Sue Casseau of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that most, but not all, flood fight teams are expected to go out over the weekend. The only locks that will be closed are Lock and Dam 24 near Clarksville, Missouri, and the Jerry F. Costello Lock and Dam on the Kaskaskia River near Modoc. The agency’s Emergency Operations Center will re-open on Thursday.

“Everything is performing as expected and designed,” Casseau said.

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.

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