U.S. Senator Dick Durbin met with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Saturday as metro-east communities and their levees battle high water in what will be the longest lasting flood since 1927, according to officials.
The water in the levees was still expected to stay below the Great Flood of 1993 record of 49 feet when the rising Mississippi River finally crests. The National Weather Service thinks it will be over the weekend at 46 feet.
But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believes it will take another four weeks for the water to fall below the flood stage, putting a strain on the saturated dirt walls of the levees.
Alicia Tate-Nadeau, the acting director of IEMA, told Durbin that it would be the longest flood fight in more than 90 years when he came to Alton on Saturday. State Sen. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, was also there to hear about the efforts.
“The communities are exhausted, but I tell you what, they are rock stars,” Tate-Nadeau said.
In Monroe County, where the levees were built to hold 48 feet of water, a mandatory evacuation and curfew will be enforced starting Sunday for the residents whose homes could be at risk of flooding because they live in low-lying areas or near water. Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing said Friday that most of them had already left.
More rain in the forecast could increase the risk that those levees overflow.
Levees in St. Clair and Madison counties can hold up to 54 feet of water.
The main concern for the metro-east’s levees, no matter their height, is water seeping through their walls, which can make them unstable and cause them to fail.
Officials in Monroe County have come up with a back-up plan in case a levee there fails. They are planning to use a controlled breach in a levee at Fountain Creek, which cuts off the Columbia basin, to save the rest of the county if that happens.
Durbin said he didn’t know how much funding the federal government would be able to offer Illinois for any damage the flood causes.
“I can tell you that I’ve been disappointed so many times when I’ve come to these disaster scenes in Illinois,” Durbin told reporters in Alton. “I don’t make any promises anymore about the federal government. They are actively engaged now with the Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and FEMA, but in terms of assistance, dollar assistance, I learned a long time ago: Don’t over-promise.
“The formulas are not friendly to states like Illinois. We’ve tried to change it for years without success, but we’ll continue to try our best to bring in ever penny that helps.”
After his public stop in Alton, Durbin was scheduled to travel to the State’s Unified Area Command center in Winchester to speak privately to the IEMA.