Rain may alter crest forecast

Saturday, June 28, 2008

In the Red Star area outside the Cape Girardeau floodwall Friday, Kerry Taylor wasn't taking any chances as the rising Mississippi River crept onto the gravel parking lot at Auto Doctor, the business he opened about four years ago.

Tow trucks were taking customer's cars to higher ground, and Taylor was preparing to move everything he could. Although his shop on Water Street isn't likely to be flooded if the river rises to its expected crest, Taylor said he cannot take any chances with his livelihood.

"This is how I eat every day," Taylor said. "I have to be here, I have to make sure I can make ends meet after this goes away. Everything we can, we want to get it out."

The river stood at 41.5 feet at 5 p.m. Friday, up a tiny amount from Thursday. The National Weather Service maintained its prediction the river will crest Wednesday at 43 feet, 11 feet above flood stage and 5.5 feet below the record level seen in 1993.

Rain farther north could send the levels beyond the predicted crest. High river levels are continuing to be a source of concern for officials throughout the area. Stormy weather is predicted for Southeast Missouri through this evening.

City officials urgently brought in electrical contractors to the Main Street Levee District pumping station to repair transformers and circuit breakers fried by a lightning strike Thursday evening.

The lightning strike kept the pumps from working and storm water collected from Merriwether Street to Themis Street as the storm dumped about an inch of rain on downtown areas.

"It is a lot better today than it was last night," said Steve Cook, assistant director of public works.

The pumps still will not switch on automatically, Cook said, but can be activated manually. "The main part is we have electricity. We have pumps, and we can keep downtown dry."

While equipment repairs continued, the city has no backup generator in case of a widespread power outage. "We'd love to have a generator down there," Cook said.

A backup generator is part of the city's plans for improvements to the city's flood protection system, but persuading the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to foot the bill has been difficult, he said. Cook anticipates asking for money for generators in the next city budget cycle.

The pump station is fed from a main power line feeding the city, and Cook said he has assurances from AmerenUE that a loss of power to the pump station would be a top priority for the utility company. An alternative source of power could possibly have averted Thursday's downtown flood, Cook said.

In other areas, the city is watching the river closely and will make a decision to stop pumping treated wastewater into the river if necessary. The pumps vibrate enough to create worries about the levee protecting the sewage treatment plant, Cook said. Once the river reaches 42 or 42.5 feet, a decision must be made, Cook said.

"We're just going to play it by ear," he said.

The same storm system that produced the downtown lightning strike and flood in Cape Girardeau dumped 4.8 inches of rain on Marble Hill, Mo., in a two-hour period, said Jim Bollinger, emergency operations coordinator for Bollinger County.

While the rush of rain filled creeks, there were no major reports of damage, he said.

"Everything went down as fast as it came up," Bollinger said. "The streets and such got washed pretty good. I think we are in pretty good shape."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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