Homeowners near Chaffee trying to save their house from flood; emergency levee being built near Dutchtown

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Rain begins to fall as Chaffee, Mo. residents sandbag around a house just off State Highway EE Monday, April 25, 2011 as rising floodwaters close in on the house. The residents of the house said they are "trying to stick it out." (Laura Simon)

One sandbag at a time, Vivian Bradley is trying to protect her Chaffee, Mo., home as floodwaters surround it from all sides and rain continues to fall.

"I'm helpless," she said. "It's never been like this before. It's really scary."

Bradley's son Charles and about a dozen friends filled sandbags Sunday evening and Monday morning to surround her home on Route EE.

They stood in water knee-deep Monday morning as they continued to fill bags with wet sand.

Water hadn't gotten into the house. With the rain continuing, Bradley fears she may lose everything.

Delta, Chaffee, Gordonville and Whitewater have seen some of the most widespread flooding. As the Mississippi River rises, the Dutchtown area is now in danger.

"What we have is a doubleheader event going on. Backwater from the Mississippi River is coming up and at the same time, headwater is draining down the Whitewater River, Crooked Creek and Castor River," said Cape Girardeau County Emergency Management director Richard Knaup.

About 5 p.m. Monday, crews began building an emergency levee along Highway 74 near Highway 25 to protect Dutchtown, Knaup said. The project is supervised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but will be constructed by workers with Cape Girardeau County, Cape Girardeau Special Road District, the village of Dutchtown and the Gordonville Fire Department.

Highway 74 is now closed, but Knaup said Highway 25 will remain open as long as possible.

"It will only be closed when we have to. When that have-to is, I'm not quite sure yet," Knaup said.

A large portion of Route EE between Chaffee and Delta is underwater, and the road remains closed. More than 100 roads across the Southeast Missouri region were closed Monday afternoon, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department has asked for voluntary evacuation of the Allenville area, Knaup said.

"If residents get cut off by rising headwater, that water is so swift and so dangerous. It is hard even for a shallow-water boat to get in to them," Knaup said.

Assistant Delta fire chief Kevin Gramlisch said his department has responded to three water rescue events since Friday, including one on County Road 249 near Route EE Monday morning.

Evelyn Nussbaum, who lives along Route EE at Delta, said she's measured 11 inches of rain in her rain gauge in the past week.

The water at her home has gone down after Delta municipal workers cleared a drainage ditch behind her house.

"I came home Saturday night and started putting stuff up on top of the tables. I just knew it was going to flood," Nussbaum said. She had water more than four inches deep in her carport, nearly coming in through the side door.

Since Friday and as of 8 p.m. Monday, 10.81 inches of rain have fallen in Cape Girardeau, according to Rick Shanklin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky.

"We typically average about 4 inches of rain for the month of April, so we're nearing double that. We'll exceed that before we get out of this event this week," Shanklin said.

The Cape Girardeau area can expect thunderstorms with periods of heavy rain off and on through Wednesday, he said. An additional 3.5 inches of rain is likely.

Flooding also closed the runways at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport as of Sunday afternoon. Airport manager Bruce Loy said pumps were brought in Monday to try to remove the water, but with more rain falling they weren't making much of a difference.

The airport remained open to helicopter traffic, he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Missouri National Guard and American Red Cross were all making plans to help those affected by flooding Monday afternoon.

The Southeast Missouri chapter of the American Red Cross opened a shelter for flood victims at the Salvation Army Monday afternoon but later in the evening relocated it to the Osage Center.

The Red Cross recommends people staying at the shelter bring their own medications, toiletry items, pillow and blanket.

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook this morning," said Sara Gerau, Red Cross development director. "This is just so widespread."

The Missouri National Guard was activated to assist in flood relief efforts by Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday.

The 1140th Engineer Battalion of the Missouri National Guard, located in Cape Girardeau, is ready, said Guard spokeswoman Michelle Queiser.

"Right now we are assessing what is needed where," she said.

The National Guard has sent officers to Mississippi and Butler counties already, Queiser said.

"I'm sure that list will be growing. Our units are ready and prepared to answer to whatever the communities might be needing," she said. It's unknown at this time how many officers may be involved in the response effort, she said.

The Mississippi River was at 40.99 feet. at 8 p.m. Monday in Cape Girardeau. It is scheduled to crest Wednesday at 43 feet, 11 feet above flood stage. It's expected to rise again through the weekend.

"That's all subject to change depending on where rain falls and how much falls," Shanklin said.

The Mississippi River's highest crest on record was recorded Aug. 8, 1993, at 48.49 feet.

"Right now, we are taking it 48 hours at a time," said Mike Petersen, public affairs officer with the Corps of Engineers. "We are meeting twice a day and have been working well in advance. We've planned for this, and we're addressing it."

Petersen urged those in areas near waterways to pay close attention to the conditions around them.

"If you see roads closed, they're closed for a reason," he said. "If you see water covering the roads, don't drive through it."

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

State Highway EE, Chaffee, MO

State Highway 74, Dutchtown, MO

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