Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Midwest volunteers fight flooding rivers
nHomes and businesses along Mississippi and Illinois rivers evacuated. BY JIM SALTER, AND JIM SUHR
CLARKSVILLE, Mo. -- Communities in Illinois and Missouri fought Tuesday to hold back surging rivers swollen by days of drenching rain, even as an approaching storm system threatened new downpours.
Floodwaters were rising to record levels along the Illinois River in central Illinois; roads and buildings were flooded and riverfront structures were inundated in Peoria Heights. Firefighters feared that if fuel from businesses and vehicles starts to leak, it could spark a fire in areas that could be reached only by boat.
"That's our nightmare: A building burns and we can't get to it," said Peoria Heights Fire Chief Greg Walters. "These are combustible buildings and we have no access to them simply because of the flooding."
About 20 to 30 homes and businesses near the river have been evacuated, he said.
In nearby Chillicothe, more than 400 homes have been affected by the flood, said Vicky Turner, director of the Peoria County Emergency Management Agency. Many homes have been evacuated, but others whose owners have had their buildings raised over the years because of flooding have chosen to stay put, Turner said.
"They row back and forth ... up to the main road," she said.
The Illinois and Mississippi rivers are rising after rain in much of the region last week, followed by a new storm system Tuesday that sent the government's river watchers scrambling to recalculate their projections about how high the water would get.
In Missouri, officials in the flood-weary hamlet of Clarksville were optimistic that days of furious sandbagging would hold back the Mississippi. At times toiling in heavy rain, crews built a second wall of dirt and sandbags behind the original barrier and by Tuesday morning calm was restored. The Mississippi appeared to be receding, ever so slowly, from the community 70 miles north of St. Louis.
"We're feeling much better," Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said. "It is amazing what you can do, and when it doesn't work you go to Plan B, Plan C or Plan D."
Downriver in tiny Dutchtown, Mo., sandbagging was underway as the river was already 8 feet above flood stage and rising, with an expected crest of 42 feet on Thursday. Water that high means that unless the sandbag levee holds, an enclave of several dozen homes in the town of about 100 people would be damaged, along with some businesses.
Shipping resumed Tuesday along a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi near St. Louis after the Coast Guard said 11 barges that sank last weekend in the rain-swollen waterway were not a hazard to navigation.
Investigators were trying to determine what caused 114 barges to break loose in St. Louis County. Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said drifting debris such as trees that can collect under docked barges may have weighed on the fleet and the lines that secured them to shore.
Fogarty said efforts to salvage the sunken barges would begin soon.
In St. Louis, crews with the city's wastewater treatment utility scrambled to stem the flow of millions of gallons of raw sewage that has been pouring into the river since two of three pumps failed at a treatment plant two days earlier.
The plant processes some 110 million gallons of sewage a day; about half of that was being discharged into the river untreated. Many communities downriver from the city draw their drinking water from the Mississippi.
Lance LeComb, a Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District spokesman, said it was unclear how quickly the pumps would be fixed or replaced. While acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, LeComb said the fast-flowing, bloated river was diluting the spilled sewage.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, the rain-swollen Grand River has driven hundreds of people from their home in Grand Rapids, Mich. On the other side of the state in Saginaw County, flooding along the Saginaw River has left homes, businesses and part of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge under water.