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Rising Mississippi Prompts Sandbagging And Road Closures

Flooding on the Mississippi River continues to make its way south from Iowa, putting towns from Quincy to Grafton on alert.

With historic buildings, a post office and a dozen homes all in the path of the flood, Clarksville, Mo., 75 miles north of St. Louis, has more to lose than most.

Volunteers organized by AmeriCorps St. Louis spent the weekend building a sandbag levee along buildings on First Street, which runs parallel to the river. Disaster Response Coordinator Clare Holdinghaus said the high volunteer turnout combined with a reduction in predicted flood levels puts the flood preparation ahead of schedule.

This is the sixth flood the town has seen since Clarksville Mayor Jo Anne Smiley took office 10 years ago. But this year, there’s one difference. The board of aldermen has decided that the town won’t foot the bill to pay for flood preparation and cleanup.

“That was a tough decision. That was a tough thing to do,” Smiley said. “But you can’t make a decision, I think, in all good conscience that will ultimately lead to bankrupting the city.”

According to Smiley, a flood generally costs the town between $400,000 and $750,000. Clarksville just finished paying off its debts for last year’s flood this past June, Smiley said.

The State Emergency Management Agency is paying for sand, and the BNSF Railroad transported it to Clarksville. Other equipment and materials have been supplied by AmeriCorps.

Homeowners and businesses are also learning to adapt and make preparations on their own, Smiley said.

Road and River Conditions

Barge traffic to the Upper Mississippi is blocked due to the closure of the Louisiana Railroad Bridge, and high water has closed roads near Clarksville, Louisiana and Mozier, with more road closings possible. The Memorial Bridge in Quincy remains open, but could close if the river levels continue to rise.

“Right now we are getting everything staged and ready to close the Memorial Bridge should we need to.  The level’s going to be close, so we’re not positive at this point if we’re going to have to close that or not,” said Roger Driskell of the Illinois Department of Transportation. “Of course in Quincy we do have the Bayview Bridge, so if we close the Memorial we can run two-way traffic on Bayview.”

According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydrologist Russell Errett, most people who live along the river are accustomed to this level of flood and know how to respond.  He said the main concern right now is the possibility of more rain.

“Monday evening there is pretty significant rainfall forecasted for southern Iowa, they’re showing about an inch and a half to two inches of rainfall, and we’re kind of concerned with that on how it is going to time with the crest passing through the Iowa area, whether that’s going to add to the crest or if it’s going to fill in behind it and just make it a longer flood,” said Errett.

Unless anything changes, the river crest is expected to reach Quincy by Tuesday and Grafton by Friday.

For the latest on road closings, see the maps provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Missouri Department of Transportation. For the latest on river levels, see the National Weather Service graphs and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers list.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille