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Despite high flood levels, St. Louis region may be spared significant damage

With the opening of the bike path on the McKinley Bridge, residents have another way to monitor water levels. So far, predictions indicate that the St. Louis area is not in danger. 2008 300 pals
Tom Nagel | St. Louis Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 12, 2008 - Mississippi River towns north of St. Louis are bracing for flood levels just short of record 1993 readings, but many community officials remained hopeful Thursday that damage to homes and businesses will be minimal.

Luckily for the immediate St. Louis region, this area likely will be spared the brunt of any significant flooding, said a Washington University geologist. 

"The serious flows just north of us won't hit us just yet," said Robert Criss. "But what about July?" he warned. "These things can happen pretty fast."

The emergency management director for Canton, Mo., a town of some 2,000 residents about 15 miles north of Hannibal, said he expects to be able to dodge the bullet once more.

"Cautiously optimistic," Jeff McReynolds said Thursday. "As long as it doesn't go insane, we should be OK. Of course, the unknown is what is going to happen in Iowa over the next few days," referring to rainfall north of town.

McReynolds said workers were using sandbags to add to the height of the town's levee today. The great flood of 1993 topped out at 27.9 feet, slightly higher than the projected crest next week of 26.6 feet, and the levee held at that time, he said.

McReynolds said no evacuation has been ordered, but added that officials have said property owners near the river may want to pack up personal belongings in the event they need to move out quickly.

In Hannibal, which is just gearing up for its summer tourist season, John Hark said that community too is using sandbags and other measures to raise its levee.

Hark, emergency management director for the city of Hannibal and Marion County, said the current forecast is for the river to crest next week at 30.6 feet, again about a foot under the 31.8 feet record crest recorded in 1993.

2008 graphic 300 pals

"We held it back then and we feel we can hold it back again," he said.

“The floodwall is doing its job,” Mary Sexton of the Hannibal Convention and Tourism Bureau told the Hannibal Courier-Post. “We’ll do everything we can to let people know Hannibal is alive and well.” 

In the town of LaGrange, midway between Hannibal and Canton, city administrator Mark Campbell said there is little that community can do but monitor the rising water.

The town does not have a levee. Many of the businesses that might be affected by a flood have already shut down - victims of the 1993 flood.

"There's not as much left in the area to flood," he said.

He said that some property owners are sandbagging around their buildings in an attempt to protect them from the floodwaters. He said some 30 to 40 local residents already have left their property and are living with relatives.

He said an expected river crest of about 26.6 feet next Wednesday or Thursday would be 1.3 feet below the record 1993 crest.

Criss said most of the problems will be north of Grafton, Ill., above the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Criss has long held that manmade river structures like wing dikes and chevrons, designed to deepen water levels near the river's center and thus improve navigation, have worsened flooding in recent years.

He noted that the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has maintained that such navigational structures are not to blame for additional flooding.

Historically, he said, the St. Louis region has been hit hardest when there is significant flooding of the Missouri River - something that is not currently taking place. Still, he noted that expected rainfall over the next couple of days -- forecast for four inches or more in some places -- could worsen the predictions.

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