Concerns turn to river flooding

Thursday, March 20, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ Farmers and volunteers scrambled with sandbags Wednesday to reinforce a levee between Chaffee, Mo., and Oran, Mo.

As the rain slackened and finally stopped Wednesday afternoon, the relief was only temporary as concerns turned to a rising Mississippi River and preparing for river flooding to replace flash flooding.

In several locations, mainly in southern Cape Girardeau County and northern Scott County, levees ran over. When the rain ended, the two-day total at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport stood at 12.45 inches, surpassing the 9.71-inch two-day record set in late May 1973. And those 1973 rains were the standard for many longtime residents who have battled floods before but can't remember any event like the one they are experiencing.

"We had, in 1973, a flood that got pretty bad," said Martin Eftink, 53, as he took a break from filling and stacking sandbags among a group of farm families and their friends who were fighting rising water on Caney Creek south of Chaffee, Mo. "This is worse than that. This rain has lasted so long, and there is a lot more of it."

Dozens of state and local roads remained closed Wednesday in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois because of high water, but the number was beginning to fall.

The National Weather Service predicted a Sunday crest of 44.5 feet on the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, a level that would place it among the highest stages ever recorded here.

In 1993, the river crested at 48 feet. Downstream from Cape Girardeau, the crest is expected to range from 7.5 feet to 10.5 feet above flood stage to Caruthersville, Mo. The Ohio River stood at 46.7 feet at Cairo, Ill., and is anticipated to rise an additional 8.3 feet to 55 feet by Tuesday.

The floodwall at Themis and Water streets was closed early Wednesday, and Andy Juden, president of the Main Street Levee District, plans to close the gate at Broadway and Water Street today.

At 42.5 feet, Cape Girardeau will be forced to pump its sewage untreated into the river from the plant at 429 Cooper St., chief operator Jim Baylor said.

"We will have to bypass. We won't be able to treat it," Baylor said of the city's sewage. "If it goes up to 44.5 feet, there is so much river water coming in, with low manholes in Red Star and down along Sprigg Street. Thank goodness it only happens now and then."

State assistance was stepped up Wednesday to counties across southern Missouri, and Gov. Matt Blunt is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to call this week's flooding in 70 Missouri counties a "major disaster" and send financial assistance as soon as possible.

335-6611, extension 126

335-6611, extension 245

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