River reaches flood stage at Cape

Friday, May 11, 2007
Howard Thomas, left, and Gordon Morgan operated a gear mechanism atop the Merriwether Street pumping station that would close the gate to the 7-foot storm drain tunnel leading to the Mississippi River on Thursday afternoon. (Fred Lynch)

The Mississippi River reached flood stage at Cape Girardeau Thursday afternoon, just hours after Main Street Levee District officials and workers closed the gate in the Merriwether Street storm drain and ran the pumps briefly at the downtown pumping station.

Shortly after 1 p.m., workers for the levee district closed the gate, then pumped the remaining water out into the river. The pump station, with three 200-horsepower pumps and two 75-horsepower pumps, was last used in January 2006, levee district board president Andy Juden said.

The National Weather Service continues to predict that the Mississippi will rise to 37.5 feet on the Cape Girardeau gauge, 5.5 feet above flood stage, by Wednesday. The river rose to the 32-foot flood stage about 5 p.m. Thursday.

The pump station at Merriwether and Water streets is the storm-water outlet for an area from Morgan Oak Street on the south and Bellevue Street on the north going west to Pacific Street, Juden said. The pumps can move 20,000 gallons a minute from the storm drain into the river, he said. "We can pump out 13 inches of rain in an hour."

While the current river levels aren't high enough to cause problems, the pumps must be ready. "Otherwise we could get so much water if we do get a heavy rain it won't go out as fast," Juden said.

He said the pumps will be staffed 24 hours a day in case of heavy rain.

District workers plan to close the Themis Street gate in the downtown floodwall Saturday afternoon, Juden said.

The Mississippi River is rising as waters from intense storms last weekend along the Missouri River push downstream. By Thursday afternoon, the Mississippi was above flood stage from Brickeys, Mo., to Cape Girardeau, though the levels weren't high enough for any serious problems.

But along the Missouri River, sandbagging and evacuations continued as levees continued to fail. The most recent levee break occurred Thursday afternoon between the towns of DeWitt, Mo., and Brunswick, Mo., spilling Missouri River water on farmland, slowing traffic on U.S. 24 and damaging railroad tracks. Another Carroll County breach south of Norborne had flooded about 15,000 acres of cropland and left about 75 rural homes surrounded.

In Holt County, hit by a series of levee breaks Monday, rooftops were still all that could be seen of some of the 450 to 475 homes flooded in the village of Big Lake. Authorities spent Thursday taking some residents to rescue their pets and retrieve medication.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has prepared about 1.2 million sandbags, about 132,000 of which already had been distributed to help fight the flood by Wednesday, Gov. Matt Blunt said during a visit to the state Emergency Operations Center.Prisoners filled sandbags Thursday at the prison in Boonville, and a crew of inmates was sent to the Cooper County town of Wooldridge to stack the bags on top of a levee that protects the community from the Petite Saline Creek.

To the east, the Missouri River was expected to crest Sunday in Jefferson City at 8.7 feet above flood stage, which could cause flooding at the municipal airport and other low-lying areas below the bluff where the state Capitol sits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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