Cape Girardeau, Scott counties under flood watch until late Sunday

Saturday, January 13, 2007
Rainwater covered a section of the walking path around Jackson Rotary Lake on Friday afternoon. (Fred Lynch)

In Scott City, the Public Works Department has sandbags at the ready.

And, like in Cape Girardeau and Jackson, public works crews have been out this week making sure drainage ditches and storm drains are clear of debris.

Scott City Public Works director Jack Rasnic hopes his crew, which will be on standby throughout the weekend, won't have to use the sandbags. But with anywhere from 3 to 5 inches of rain forecast throughout the area over the weekend, they may not be so lucky.

The National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., has placed both Cape Girardeau and Scott counties in a flood watch that began Friday and will last through late Sunday night. Over the weekend periods of heavy rain combined with steady, lighter rain will create a flood risk, said National Weather Service hydrologist Mary Lamm.

Even though rains won't be heavy throughout the period, "there's just not much chance to recover" from flooding between those heavy downpours due to the constant fall of light rain, Lamm said.

Rivers in the area are expected to bulge over the weekend. While the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau wasn't forecast to reach flood stage as of Friday -- the river was expected to crest between 17 and 18 feet early Saturday, well below the 32-foot flood stage -- other rivers in the area were.

Lamm said the St. Francois River at Patterson, Mo., was expected to crest at 19 feet today. The flood stage is 16 feet. But Lamm said the flooding could be even worse than what was forecast Friday afternoon. Those river stage forecasts only factor in rainfall for the coming 24 hours, not over the entire weekend.

When heavy rains hit the area, flooding is almost inevitable in cities like Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City. In Cape Girardeau, heavy rains usually put several sections of road under water and prompt several calls to the police department from stranded motorists. Jackson's Hubble Creek commonly spills over its banks. And in Scott City, some residents experience flooded yards.

Cape Girardeau's assistant director of public works, Steve Cook, said flooding would be even worse without recent improvements in the city's storm-water drainage system.

"We have certain spots all over town that flood, but fortunately through most of the storm-water projects, the major stuff is really taken care of," Cook said.

Possibly the biggest of those projects is the storm-water detention basin built with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1997 and 2002 at a cost of $4.5 million. The basin is on the city's northern side and catches much of the water that would drain into the city's main storm-water channel, La Croix Creek.

This weekend, the basin should see plenty of action as it catches storm-water runoff and releases that runoff at a controlled rate. Cook said workers have been at the basin this week, making sure everything is working properly.

"You can make sure everything's in order, and advance warning gives us time to go back and check things, but on the reality side there's not a whole lot you can do, either," Cook said. "If it rains a slow rain, the storm-water systems will be fine. But if we get 6-inch downpours, it's going to flood."

Jackson city engineer Kent Peetz said his city is much the same as Cape Girardeau -- slow rains present few problems, but downpours will inevitably cause some degree of flooding. The main threat in Jackson is Hubble Creek, which can overspill its banks due to large rains outside of Jackson. In the past large downpours in the Fruitland area have caused flash flooding along Jackson's Hubble Creek, Peetz said.

Rasnic thinks Scott City has made large strides in the past few years by clearing out culverts and ditches. However, given Scott City's geography, flooding will still happen in the event of large rains.

"Scott City is all hills, and the business area in town is at the low end of things," Rasnic said. "That's been one of our priorities over the last few years, removing trees and trash to open up some waterways, and hopefully we've done a pretty decent job."

Rasnic said heavy rains last spring have already shown the city's drainage system has an increased capacity for handling storm water. But that doesn't mean residents shouldn't expect floods this weekend.

Area public works departments are.

"Storm water is something you always plan for the worst on and hope that never happens," Peetz said.

335-6611, extension 182

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