CLARKSVILLE, Mo. —
Communities along the Mississippi River and other Midwestern waterways eyed and in some cases fortified makeshift levees holding back floodwaters that meteorologists said could worsen or be prolonged by looming storms.
Overnight rain from Oklahoma to Michigan led the National Weather Service to heighten the forecast crest of some stretches of rivers while blunting the retreat of other waterways.
Mark Fuchs, a National Weather Service hydrologist, said the latest dousing could be especially troublesome for communities along the Illinois River, which is headed for record crests.
“Along the Illinois, any increase is going to be cause for alarm, adding to their uncertainty and, in some cases, misery,” he said late Monday afternoon.
Last week’s downpours brought on sudden flooding throughout the Midwest, and high water is blamed for at least three deaths. Authorities in LaSalle, Ill., spent Monday searching for a woman whose van was spotted days earlier near a bridge, and a 12-year-old boy was in critical condition after being pulled from a river near Leadwood, Mo., about 65 miles south of St. Louis.
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 can collect under docked barges, and that this 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.
The prospect of additional rain was not welcome in Clarksville, Mo., about 70 miles north of St. Louis.
Days ago bused-in prison inmates worked shoulder to shoulder with the National Guard and local volunteers to build a makeshift floodwall of sand and gravel. But on Monday the barrier showed signs of strain. Crews scrambled to patch trouble spots and build a second sandbag wall to catch any water weaseling through.
In Grafton, Ill., some 40 miles northeast of St. Louis, Mayor Tom Thompson said the small community was holding its own; by early Monday afternoon the Mississippi was 10 feet above flood stage. Waters lapped against some downtown buildings, forcing shops such as Hawg Pit BBQ to clear out and detours to be established around town. One key intersection was under 8 inches of water.
“If it gets another foot (higher), it’s going to become another issue,” Thompson said. Townsfolk “are kinda watching and holding their breath. ... Some things are going to really be close to the wire.”
Elsewhere, smaller rivers caused big problems. In Grand Rapids, Mich., the Grand River hit a record 21.85 feet, driving hundreds of people from their homes and flooding parts of downtown.
Spots south of St. Louis aren’t expected to crest until late this week, and significant flooding is possible in places like Ste. Genevieve, Mo., Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Cairo, Ill. Further downriver, flood warnings have been issued for Kentucky and Tennessee.