Waiting for rising water

Wednesday, May 9, 2007
The Mississippi River waters covered most of the steps along the flood wall Tuesday, May 8, 2007. Dunklin County Asst. Prosecutor Jonce Chidister and Danielle Fragin relaxed at the water front during his day off from work. (Diane L. Wilson)

Flood stage 32 feet: River expected to crest at 37.5 feet

Levee breaks: Missouri River floods central Missouri

The floodgates at the east end of Themis Street will likely be closed sometime Saturday afternoon, but the rising Miss-issippi River shouldn't cause any major problems, area emergency and levee district officials said Tuesday.

The river will go above flood stage -- 32 feet on the Cape Girardeau gauge -- sometime Friday morning, the National Weather Service predicts. The river is expected to crest near 37.5 feet by May 16, a level that will cause few problems but will generate concern if heavy rains occur upstream.

"We'll watch and wait," said Larry Dowdy, president of the Little River Drainage District. "That is all you can do on a deal like this."

Heavy rains in Nebraska and Kansas spawned flooding along the middle stretches of the Missouri River, and Gov. Matt Blunt on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to respond to flooding in northwest Missouri. That water will be entering the Mississippi River in coming days, pushing up water levels from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill.

The flood warning issued Tuesday morning covers Perry, Cape Girardeau and Scott counties in Missouri and Union and Alexander counties in Illinois. The river level in Cape Girardeau was 30.2 feet at about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Barring additional intense rain, water levels should stay well below those of May 2002, when the river crested at 45.7 feet, a little more than 2 feet below the record set in 1993. The weather service forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms each day for the rest of the week and above normal rainfall across northern Missouri and Illinois over the next two weeks.

The Main Street Levee District closes the Themis Street floodgate when the water reaches 35 feet, said Andy Juden of the district board said. The Broadway floodgate is left open until the river reaches 39 feet, he said.

"We leave it open as long as we can for people to look out at the river, and we close it before we have to wade in water to do it," Juden said.

A third flood gate, at the south end of the levee district's area of responsibility, is kept open until the river reaches 46 feet on the gauge and has been closed only in 1993 and 1995.

The gate on North Main Street and the one along the railroad are under the control of the North Main Street Levee District. AmerenUE is in charge of closing those gates, Juden said.

Levees along the Mississippi River in the region are designed to hold back the waters of a 500-year flood, which is defined as a flood that has a one in 500 chance of occurring in any given year.

The high water will likely force people with campers parked in the Thebes, Ill., campground to move their vehicles, village clerk Sheila Dodson said. "A lot of people leave them there and come in on the weekend," she said. "If we need to, we will move it for them."

Government-sponsored purchases of homes subject to repeated flooding will reduce the likelihood of any headaches from this round of high water, said Mark Hashheider, assistant Cape Girardeau fire chief and director of emergency response for the city. More than 100 homes in the Red Star district north of downtown and in Smelterville south of downtown were purchased after the devastating floods of 1993 and 1995. "Less than 1 percent of the homes in Cape Girardeau were affected by flooding, but it consumed quite a bit of the resources and manpower to assist those people," he said.

Water starts to reach Water Street in the Red Star area when the river reaches 38.5 feet, Hashheider said.

The city also took steps to protect the water treatment intakes and wastewater facilities from high water, which will pay dividends if the river were to rise beyond the 37.5 feet prediction, Hashheider said.

In addition to plans for closing the Themis Street floodgate, pumps that push storm-water runoff from downtown into the river will be activated Friday, Juden said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 126

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