Snows raise river level

Saturday, March 8, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ Cape Girardeau Parks Department employees put benches from the riverfront in a trailer Friday morning due to rising river levels.

For the second time in a week, Southeast Missourians tensed up for a big storm only to relax when it didn't meet the forecast.

The 3 to 5 inches of snow predicted by National Weather Service meteorologists held off all day.

Debris cleanup crews in Cape Girardeau and Jackson stopped collecting limbs and trees to install plows on municipal trucks and load up on cinders and salt.

By 7 p.m. Friday, a mere dusting of snow was evident on the windows of parked cars. However, near-blizzard conditions were anticipated to happen overnight.

While area precipitation totals may have come up short of forecasts, the rain, sleet and snow in the Mississippi River basin during the week helped raise river water levels. The weather service issued a flood warning ranging from Chester, Ill., to Cape Girardeau and Thebes, Ill. The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau is expected to crest at 34.5 feet Sunday morning -- more than two feet above flood stage, but not enough to warrant closing floodgates. The Themis Street floodgate is closed at 35 feet; the Broadway gate at 39 feet.

Main Street Levee District president Andy Juden Jr. said he experienced a minor crisis when a pump stopped working. The device pumps water from the Cape Girardeau side of the floodwall into the Mississippi River.

Juden said he spent 11 hours Friday working with AmerenUE, levee district workers and an independent electrical contractor to trace the cause of a broken circuit.

KIT DOYLE ~ In addition to building a snow fort Friday, 5-year-old Tara Lancaster planned on eating pizza and drinking hot chocolate with her family in Cape Girardeau.

The problem "doesn't mean anything as long as the river's at the present stage," he said.

While Juden was not worried about rising water, he did fret Friday evening that the power supply hadn't been restored and that the outage seemed to be a mystery.

"It's sort of like a very sick person; we don't really know exactly what's wrong," he said.

He suspected a new AmerenUE transformer would solve the problem but said getting it over the weekend might be difficult.

Even so, after 50 years of managing the district, Juden said he was confident of averting a flood-related emergency. With past power failures, he's ordered generators.

Once the floodwall is sealed, "in essence you've got a dike. As I say, it's not anything we're concerned about at this time, and there are other alternatives, such as getting an alternative pump," he said. "If the river went higher, to 36, 37 feet and we have rain, yes. At 37 feet there'd be three feet of water in Hutson Furniture. You have to get rid of internal water."

Juden also isn't worried about a floodwall monolith that is out of alignment by three inches.

"That happened in 1973, and it hasn't moved a millimeter since then," he said.

Below ground, the wall is shaped like the letter L, and the portion that juts out at the bottom is called a toe.

The wall "is stronger when the river is up than when it's down," Juden said. "The toe of the wall is on the river side, and the weight of the water holds it down."

335-6611, extension 127

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