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National Guard arrives in Southern Illinois to help with flood preparation efforts

Pritzker activates National Guard

Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated the National Guard to help with flood fighting efforts in the state along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated the National Guard to help with flood fighting efforts in the state along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

With the Mississippi River expected to crest at near-historic levels next week, communities in Southern Illinois are getting a little extra help in combating flooding from the National Guard.

On Saturday, 200 guardsmen arrived in Madison County as the water level of the river reached the second-highest level in history in St. Louis at 43.49 feet. It is expected to rise to 46 feet Thursday, only 3 feet below the Great Flood of 1993 record.

Heavy rainfall in the metro-east Saturday night could also affect the river’s rise, but the National Weather Service only takes precipitation that is forecast within 24 hours into its predictions. That means the crest could be delayed.

Last week, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker activated the National Guard at Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler’s request. Prenzler stated Saturday night in a news release that it was a “great response.”

In May, Pritzker signed a proclamation declaring a disaster in 34 counties, including Madison, St. Clair, Jersey and Randolph. The declaration makes a wide variety of state resources available and sets in motion the ability to receive federal assistance.

Steve Adler, Executive Director of the Metro East Sanitary District, stated in a news release that the levees are operating as designed.

“We are asking that people stay off the levees during this period of high river levels,” he said.

In Alton, volunteers filled sandbags Friday to fortify downtown areas, the Alton Telegraph reported. The river was at 37.12 feet there as of Sunday afternoon, and was expected to rise to 39.2 feet Thursday.

Further upriver, residents in the tourist town of Grafton erected the city’s first levee wall ever, FOX 2 reported. The flood wall is meant to protect everything north of Main Street. Materials to build the wall were provided by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The river level in Grafton was at 33.8 feet as of Sunday afternoon and was expected to crest at 36 feet Thursday, according to the NWS forecast.

In St. Clair County, the Emergency Management Agency said that if the river rises past 47 feet, then the county will consider evacuation for residents in low-lying areas near levees. Floodgates were installed in Cahokia, East Carondelet and North Dupo.

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing issued a voluntary evacuation request last week for those who live in the floodplain. If the river reaches 46 feet in St. Louis, as expected, he said all of those residents will be asked to evacuate.

Sandbagging efforts there continued in towns such as Valmeyer, which was forced to move two miles up a bluff after devastation from the 1993 floods. Rohlfing posted Sunday on Facebook, saying the county is watching the weather forecast.

The NWS issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook for parts of the state, including several metro-east counties, as thunderstorms were predicted Tuesday through Saturday. Some storms Tuesday afternoon and night may be severe.

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.