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Weekend Floods Spur Levee Breach in Winfield, Sandbagging In Other Mississippi River Towns

The main levee in Winfield failed May 4, 2019, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road.
File Photo
Winfield Foley Fire Protection District
The main levee in Winfield, Illinois, seen in this file photo, failed May 4, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road. An additional levee broke near there on Sunday.

Updated at 4 p.m., June 3 with comments from the Army Corps’ St. Louis District office — Floods continue to plague towns located near rivers in Missouri and Illinois. Some rivers crested this weekend in the St. Louis region, causing levee breaches, forcing evacuations and approaching the record flood levels set during the Great Flood of ’93.

A levee along the Missouri banks of the Mississippi River breached Sunday in Lincoln County near Winfield, about an hour northwest of St. Louis.

Lincoln County director for emergency management Jim Sharp said the county was prepared for the Pin Oak levee to breach, and most people evacuated between Saturday and Monday. Sharp estimated that about 50 homes flooded because of the levee failure.

The river is expected to crest in Winfield sometime Monday at 38.5 feet, 12 feet above flood stage. That’s within one foot of the highest levels recorded at Winfield by the National Weather Service since it began documenting floods in the 1700s.

The county’s emergency management team is watching Mississippi River tributaries for signs of additional flooding. The town's primary levee broke in early May. 

“Unless you have legitimate business around the flood zone, please stay away” so emergency responders can do their jobs efficiently, Sharp said.

High flood water could surpass '93 record

Monday marks 79-straight days rivers in the St. Louis region have been at or above flood stage. Chief engineer for the Army Corps’ St. Louis District, Dave Busse, expects to easily surpass the 104-day mark set during the Great Flood of ‘93, when the Mississippi River didn’t crest until August.

Busse said during a Monday media briefing that a prolonged period of strain on the levees is a wildcard, but his faith in the flood protection holding is bolstered by the more than $100 million invested in levee repairs and upgrades made over the past 26 years.

“If we would have not done any work” he said, “we would be in a much different situation. I would be extremely concerned if we had the levees we had in ‘93 now.”

More than 60 employees of the Army Corps are inspecting levees for damage and advising local officials on how to shore them up.

About 20 levees have overtopped so far, and the district’s largest concern for more in the coming days will be along the Illinois River, according to the Army Corps’ John Osterhage.

“Those levee districts are actively flood-fighting it so they’re either putting up flashboarding or sandbag walls to try and keep out the flood waters,” he said.

Adams County Emergency Management Agency requested volunteers to help fill and deliver sandbags over the weekend, when the river crested.

Quincy mayor Kyle Moore said about 1,200 volunteers filled more than 200,000 sandbags over the weekend.

Flooding has subsided, but Quincy officials say they are still preparing in case waters rise again.

County emergency management agency meteorologist Brent Clair said that volunteers can help stockpile sandbags in case conditions worsen. Sandbags will be used to maintain levees near both the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

“We’re at critical levels with the levees. It’s not like we can relax and take a break. Water’s still very, very high up on the levee structures,” Clair said.

Overall though, Clair said that his agency is “not overly scared and nervous” about flood conditions in the coming week.

The U.S. Coast Guard has closed 714 miles of Missouri and Mississippi riverway to boat traffic.

Urban flood protection is expected to hold during the Mississippi River’s projected crest Thursday at 46 feet — about four feet lower than the record — said Col. Bryan Sizemore, commander of the Army Corps’ St. Louis District.

“Should they go to historical number of 1993, we will be in better shape,” he said.

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.