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As metro-east river levels recede, National Guardsmen will head downstate

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.

National Guardsmen who have been helping metro-east counties with flood-fighting efforts for the past few weeks will be redistributed this week as the Mississippi River slowly recedes to manageable levels in the area.

Sixty soldiers from Madison County, 30 from St. Clair County and 16 from Monroe County were being placed on strategic reserve beginning Tuesday, meaning they are relieved from those service areas but remain available for callback if the local government needs it, said Rebecca Clark, a spokeswoman from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

Clark said a quick reaction force will still be on hand in case of emergency, including for water rescues.

“Those crews will be stationed until there isn’t a need for them anymore,” she said.

Two hundred soldiers were deployed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in May as the river and its tributaries began to rise to dangerous levels. Then, at the end of the month, Pritzker sent another 200 soldiers to Southern Illinois just before the river reached its second-highest crest ever.

The guardsmen have been sandbagging, watching for sand boils and monitoring levees for trespassers in counties affected by the flooding.

The biggest need for the guardsman now is further downstate in counties that are actively fighting floods, such as Alexander, Union and Pulaski.

Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, the Public Affairs Director for the Illinois National Guard, said that the guard has been following the crest down the river and following the direction of emergency management agencies.

“The National Guard is just a piece of the overall state and local teams that have been battling this,” he said. “We’re usually the last in and out of these things. When you call in the guard, that’s taking people out of their civilian jobs and homes... When the guard deploys, as is in this case, it’s that the existing resources have been overwhelmed, and we’ve got a lot of capability and a lot of man and woman power that we can apply. This is an emergency that has gotten to that level.”

Leighton said it’s been “heartwarming” to see how the communities in the state have come together in the face of disaster.

“Everyone’s really come together as a team, from the local level all the way to state agencies, to try and protect life and property,” he said.

Local police and sheriff’s deputies will continue to monitor the levees in Madison County now.

“We expect the water levels to continue to go down, and there is no longer a need for 24-hour patrols along the levees,” stated Mary Kate Brown, Madison County EMA Deputy Director, in a news release.

“The ‘no trespassing’ policy will remain in place until an undetermined time,” Brown said.

St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency also said Sunday that the levees will be restricted until the National Guard is released.

On Monday, Monroe County Emergency Management Agency announced that it had released the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System officers manning checkpoints there and that the sheriff’s department had increased patrols in the area to keep people out are not local residents.

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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