Flood concerns grow for southeast Mo. town

By JIM SALTER

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) — With southeast Missouri still saturated by floodwaters, concern was growing in East Prairie on Friday as water crept near the community.

The town of 3,400 residents is not far from where the Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached Birds Point levee this week to relieve pressure at Cairo, Ill., and other nearby towns. But Mayor Kevin Mainord says the problem is unrelated to the levee breach.

East Prairie sits in what is known as the St. John’s Bayou Basin, where water from 22 inches of rain over the past two weeks is collecting. It can’t drain into the Mississippi River because flood gates are closed at nearby New Madrid, where the water crested at a record level Thursday. As a result, backwater is threatening to flood the town.

Mainord was optimistic the trouble would pass — as long as the rain holds off.

“Right now the sun is shining and as long as it stays that way we’ll be fine,” Mainord said. “Our concern is we can’t stand another big rain event like we’ve had over and over for the past two weeks.”

Streets are wet in some parts of East Prairie, but so far, Mainord is unaware of any damage to homes. Pumps and sandbags are at the ready.

Not far from East Prairie, one lane of Interstate 55 had to be closed for a while Thursday because water from a ditch was spilling onto the roadway. The Missouri Department of Transportation said the interstate had no restrictions on Friday, though roads and highways were closed in hundreds of spots throughout the region.

The onslaught of rain has caused significant flooding on the Mississippi and other rivers in southeast Missouri, and even in areas that aren’t near rivers. The overflow from rivers combined with simple saturation of land has resulted in hundreds of thousands of acres under water.

That includes the 130,000 acres of farmland in Mississippi County flooded by the Birds Point levee breach. Missouri Agriculture Director Jon Hagler met with several farmers from that area on Thursday and assured them that crop insurance will cover their losses — both for crops already in the ground and for those that had not yet been planted.

The Mississippi River crested Thursday at 48.35 feet in New Madrid, a record, and it is expected to stay close to that level through the middle of next week. The river has already topped the previous record of 46 feet in Caruthersville and stood at 47.6 feet on Friday. A crest of 49.5 feet — a half-foot below the top of the floodwall — is now projected for early Monday. The National Weather Service previously expected the crest to occur Sunday.

The Missouri National Guard has built a sandbag levee and earthen berms behind the floodwall in case water comes over the top.

Though the weather has dried out and the rivers are starting to fall in much of southeast Missouri, Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh of the Corps of Engineers cautioned it is too early to become complacent.

“The flood fight is not over,” Walsh said. “We have hundreds of engineers working right now in the field fighting floods. Our goal is to reduce risk to people living behind our levees.”

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